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Inside Move: Locarno hits critical mass

Maslin, Winger explain jury controversy

“Debra (Winger) behaved very well,” says Janet Maslin passionately, countering published suggestions that she did otherwise ( Daily Variety, Monday, Aug. 13). “She was not the problem.”

The critic, who from Aug. 2-Aug 12 presided over the jury for the 54th Locarno Intl. Film Festival, tells Daily Variety that she doesn’t feel it is ethically right to disclose what happens behind the closed doors of the jury. “But we didn’t start this,” she says. “They left us no choice.”

The problem, according to jurists Winger and Maslin, was Italian actress Laura Morante and French director Emilie Deleuze; specifically, how they manipulated the press following the jury’s 6-2 decision in favor of an Italian comedy Morante and Deleuze disliked, and against the Iranian pic “Delbaran” that both adored.

But being a jurist is supposed to be fun, especially in Locarno, Switzerland, a gorgeous retreat from the tension of cities like Los Angeles and New York. You get flown in, stay at posh hotels, watch movies from around the world — all in exchange for the relatively small service of casting your vote in favor of films and filmmakers you like.

As the 54th Lacarno Intl. Film Festival came to a close Sunday night, the seven women and one man jury were not having much fun. Their votes had been cast for the fest’s top prize, the Golden Leopard. Six jurists had selected the Italian pic “Off to the Revolution by a 2CV,” a light comedy helmed by Maurizio Sciarra. Two had chosen the somber, substantive Iranian/Japanese co-production “Delbaran,” from Iranian director Adolfazl Jalili. That ought to have been the end of the story. But not in this strange case.

The minority voters, Morante and Deleuze, not only disliked the decision their fellow jurists had made, they hated it. Even despised it. Morante led a rebuttal that continued for nearly seven hours; the actress ranted about democratic principals and how important it was to fight for one’s beliefs, arguing openly with other jurists. Maslin tried hopelessly to mollify Morante and the others. But in the end Maslin, Winger, New Zealand actress Kerry Fox, Brit producer Olivia Stewart, Swiss writer Zoe Jenny and Chilean writer-director Antonio Skarmeta stood their ground. They had made their decision and were happy with it.

When Maslin read the jury’s decision to the press, she noted that it had not been unanimously made. Program topper Irene Bignardi, who one source says may regret her decision to have chosen mostly actresses for her jury, read a statement to the press supporting her colleagues right to dissent. But in stepped the attractive Morante and Deleuze, feeding the press long-winded speeches, in Italian and French, defending their choice of the Iranian film for the Golden Leopard. “They argued their positions very passionately,” notes Maslin. “Somewhere in the middle of all this, Debra got up and left. She didn’t ‘flounce out.’ She was trying to get someone to come in and translate Morante’s Italian.”

Continues Maslin: “If Debra was slightly irritated, it was because she was smarter than the rest of us. She had figured out how badly we had been set up to be humiliated . . . [Morante and Deleuze] spun this thing as their great victory for the underdogs. It had been a lovely festival until then.”

Adds Winger: “I am not putting myself forward as an expert on film,” says the vet actress. “But you would hope to be able reach a decision that people are happy with.” To the published suggestion that she would never sit on a jury again, she countered: “I never say never about anything.”

Maslin emphasized that a jury’s job is to vote. “The film that won,” she says, “was very sweetly done. Playful and entertaining. There was a nice balance to it. The other one [‘Delbaran’], much as we admire it, was in its own way a very orthodox kind of film. It would have taken no imagination to rubber stamp it and give it the big award. It’s quite a good film. I wish it the best. Nobody disliked it.”

In fact, after all was said and done, “Delbaran” won the fest’s second highest honor, the Special Jury Prize.

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