Incoming Chief Lili Hinstin Puts Her Mark on Locarno Fest

The 72nd Locarno Film Festival, a longtime beacon of the international indie filmmaking community, is being shaken up under new artistic director Lili Hinstin. She is the Swiss event’s second female chief since it was founded in 1946 and one of the few women to head an A-list fest.

Hinstin takes the reins from Italy’s Carlo Chatrian who went on to become Berlinale co-director after six years at Locarno’s helm, his last edition characterized by movies with women at their center. The Swiss fest will run Aug. 7-17.

In announcing her selection, Hinstin, who previously headed France’s Entrevues Belfort Intl. Film Festival, says she’s aiming to “surprise, perturb and raise questions” and points out that “the choices you make for your first festival all tend to become a kind of manifesto.”

The Locarno opener is clearly significant: “If Only,” a partly autobiographical sentimental comedy about three kids of divorced parents, is the directorial debut of a woman — Italian producer Ginevra Elkann.

“She’s definitely a true director,” says Hinstin about Elkann, who was one of Variety’s 10 Europeans to Watch in 2015. For her debut, Elkann pushed Italian stars Alba Rohrwacher and Riccardo Scamarcio to perform against type — she more sunny, he more serious — on the big screen.

Asked about gender parity, Hinstin does the math on the spot and says roughly 40% of the features at the fest this year are directed or co-directed by female filmmakers. But this is far from being due to any type of quota mindset.

“The funny thing is, in our selection committee it’s the male members that are more feminist than the women,” she says. “They are the ones who are saying: ‘It’s by a woman [director] this is important!’ And we [the women] are the ones saying: who cares if it’s a woman! We just want to select good films.”

The rest of the lineup is “open to all genres, all continents, all forms of representation,” notes Hinstin who is closing with iconic Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Uzbekistan-set “To the Ends of the Earth,” premiering in Locarno’s 8,000-seat Piazza Grande.

Also set for a launch from the Piazza Grande is Amazon’s terrorist drama “7500,” directed by Patrick Vollrath, with star Joseph Gordon-Levitt in tow; Valerie Donzelli’s comedy “Notre Dame”; Stephane Demoustier’s “The Girl With a Bracelet,” in which a teenager stands trial for murdering her best friend; and Dutch first-timer Halina Reijn’s “Instinct,” starring Carice van Houten.

Six of 16 directors with new films screening on the Piazza Grande are women, while the 17-title main competition also features six female helmers (and 13 male). The ratio is 42% in the Filmmakers of the Present section dedicated to discoveries. Women account for 35% of feature film directors selected for this yawn’s Locarno.

Standouts in the competition include “A Girl Missing,” which reunites Japan’s Koji Fukada with Mariko Tsutsui, the star of his Un Certain Regard prize-winning “Harmonium”; Portuguese auteur and Locarno regular Pedro Costa’s “Vitalina Varela”; fellow Portuguese Joao Nicolau’s musical “Technoboss”; and Italian documaker Maura Delpero’s first feature, “Hogar,” set in an Argentine center where single mothers are cared for by nuns.

Other promising world premieres vying for the Golden Leopard are “Echo,” from Iceland’s Runar Runarsson, whose “Sparrows” won the top prize in San Sebastian in 2015; immigration drama “Douze Mille” by France’s Nadege Trebal; Syrian civil war-themed “During Revolution” by Maya Khoury; “Isadora’s Children,” which revolves around dancer Isadora Duncan’s solo piece “Mother” and is directed by France’s Damien Manivel; plus “Film do Mundo,” the second feature by Swiss director (of Portuguese origin) Basil da Cunha.

French filmmaker and novelist Catherine Breillat, who is known for provocative explorations of sex and power such as “Sex Is Comedy,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Abuse of Weakness,” will preside over the jury.

Guests expected to make the trek include cult director John Waters, who will be honored with a career prize; Hilary Swank, also being feted; South Korean star Song Kang-ho and director Boon Joon-ho, winner of this year’s Cannes Palme d’Or for “Parasite”; American film editor Claire Atherton, who is French auteur Chantal Akerman’s longtime collaborator and artistic soulmate; and veteran Swiss auteur Fredi Murer.

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