New Locarno Chief Lili Hinstin on Gender Parity and Feminist Men on Her Selection Panel

The Locarno Film Festival, a longtime beacon of the international indie filmmaking community, is being shaken up a bit by new artistic director Lili Hinstin, who is the Swiss event’s second female chief since its founding in 1946 and one of the few women to head an A-list fest around the world. The event’s 72nd edition kicks off Wednesday.

A 42-year-old Parisian, Hinstin took the reins from Italy’s Carlo Chatrian, who went on to become Berlinale co-director. Hinstin spoke to Variety about putting her stamp on the fest and addressing the issue of achieving a better gender balance without quotas.

You’ve underlined how a new festival director’s first edition is a manifesto. How so in your case?

My starting point is interpreting the history of the event and the space I’m working in. Locarno has always been among the festivals I’ve admired the most….It’s a cinematic territory I like a lot. But then of course…you have your own sensibility and your own way of seeing things…Since I have a whole new committee, it’s going to reflect the alchemy of our sensibilities which is new to the festival.

What are your priorities?

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For me, one of the most important things as a programmer is to be as free as possible – and this is something very difficult – from friendships, from bonds I’ve built with industry people, and from much more difficult, immaterial things like trends and the fashion of the moment. Most of the films were selected after discussions with my selection committee….The essence of our work is defining something and trying to decide what is a contemporary movement in art. In each film we are seeing, [we ask] what is it telling us about both the history of cinema and the world we are living in?

There’s lots of European cinema this year.

Yes, especially in the international competition. Actually, we were quite surprised. We expected to have a lot more Latin American or even Asian titles. But in the end the core of our mission, as I see it, is not to offer a worldwide panorama of filmmaking per se. I think the DNA of Locarno is to offer an international selection of strong directorial propositions. And it happens [that] this year for us there were more European ones. Of course it’s still international – we have a film from Syria, a film from Brazil, a film from Korea, one from Japan.

Do you think being a woman influenced your choices in terms of gender representation?

I don’t know, really. You never really know who you are. I am not just a woman. I am also a Parisian. I was born in ’77. I’m also a mother. I like to party….There are many things that surely influence the way I look at things. The funny thing is, in our committee it’s the male selectors that are more feminist than the women. They are the ones who are saying: ‘It’s by a woman [director] – this is important!’ And we [female selectors] are the ones saying: ‘Who cares if it’s a woman? We just want to select good films.’ This was quite funny and interesting in our selection process. But I would say that maybe it’s more generational and more cultural, and not a matter of gender. The younger you are, the more feminist you are. All I can say is: I don’t think you will find a misogynist film in my lineup.

I think it’s safe to say you are not in favor of a quota. But have you looked at the lineup numerically in terms of gender ratio?

I’m quite proud of our numbers because we have six female directors out of 14 [new feature] films in the Piazza Grande, six [female directors] out of 19 directors in the international competition. And we have 42% in Filmmakers of the Present section. In total, out of the 64 new features in the 2019 selection, 26 are directed or co-directed by women. That’s 35% of the overall [number of directors] of feature films in 2019. Now we need to compare these figures with the number of submitted films….I need to verify this, but I think the percentage of films submitted by women was around 20%. So it’s very interesting.

Talk to me about your choice of Catherine Breillat to preside over the jury. She’s not exactly a feminists’ darling.

First of all she’s an amazing director – a great, great director. I really wanted to have a female jury president. It’s the first time in the history of the festival, and this is really worth mentioning. For me an artist is not an ideologue. For me an artist is a free person, and she’s been totally free. And I think a female director who was able to depict the relationship between women and sex the way she has is feminist in itself. It’s a very strong vindication of autonomy, of liberty, of women’s empowerment – the right to desire and the right to experience pleasure.

What about her saying Harvey Weinstein’s downfall is a loss for European cinema?

I think she’s a very provocative character….Since I’m French, I’m very far from politically correct kind of thinking. But I would never defend Weinstein.

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