The Locarno Film Festival is reinventing itself due to the coronavirus crisis by launching a plan B called Locarno 2020 — For the Future of Films, its core philosophy being to support global indie film directors hard hit by the pandemic as they toiled to bring their projects to the big screen.
“In April we were looking at a lot of different scenarios of what the festival could be,” says Lili Hinstin, artistic director of the Swiss event held in a lakeside town under the Alps in the Italian-speaking portion of Switzerland. Fest has long been a top notch haven for global auteurs. But the Swiss government didn’t want to take any chances with a physical edition Aug. 5-15.
Hinstin and her team felt that opting for the online festival route would go against the spirit of Locarno, known for packed nightly open-air screenings in its 8,000-seat Piazza Grande arena. So they “thought about taking the money that would have gone to the prize winners of the feature competitions that we were unable to hold, and give it to films that were struggling,” Hinstin says.
Thus Locarno’s the Films After Tomorrow alternative lineup strand was born. A 20-title selection of projects-in-progress halted by coronavirus lockdown — 10 international titles and 10 from Switzerland — which also make “a statement about where we should position ourselves as a festival,” she says.
Selected directors will also pick their personal favorite titles from previous Locarno editions that will screen online.
Picking just 10 international works-in-progress out of more than 500 submissions from more than 100 countries “was heartbreaking,” says Hinstin who notes that besides artistic merit the other main criteria were having some overall “geographic diversity” and the “urgency” of the projects.
For example, they chose French director Axelle Ropert’s dramedy “Petite Solange,” about a young woman caught in her parents’ break up, partly because its 14-year protagonist is at an age of rapid physical change, so they want to help sustain the added cost for this production to get back on set soonest.
Lucrecia Martel (“Zama”) will compete for a Pardo 2020 prize worth 70,000 Swiss francs ($72,000) — as well as other nods decided by a jury of fellow filmmakers — with “Chocobar,” the Argentinian auteur’s first non-fiction film, described as a “hybrid, creative documentary” about the murder of indigenous activist Javier Chocobar by a white landowner.
Filipino auteur Lav Diaz is in the running with “When the Waves Are Gone,” his latest film, which besides the pandemic has faced several obstacles that halted his shoot, including a volcanic eruption.
China’s Wang Bing (“Dead Souls”) made the cut with “I Come From Ikotun,” which looks at African migration to Guangzhou and the problematic process of integration faced by migrants who hope to provide a better future for their relatives in Nigeria. Shooting of the doc was under way on both continents before being brought to a halt by lockdown.
Lisandro Alonso, whose latest film is “Jauja” with Viggo Mortensen — whose other works include “La Libertad,” “Los Muertos” and “Liverpool” all of which had premiered at Cannes — is in the running with the western “Eureka.” He was directing it, working for the first time outside his native Argentina with an ensemble of cast and crew from countries ranging from Finland to Spain, when COVID-19 stopped the shoot in Portugal.
While all of them are well-known auteurs, Hinstin notes the fest also wanted to include relative newcomers such as Filipino-American director Miko Revereza and his experimental autobiographical documentary “Nowhere Near,” about returning to his native Philippines after spending much of his life as an undocumented migrant in the U.S.
The Swiss projects include “L’Afrique des Femmes,” a long-gestating doc by Mohamed Soudani about women fighting for a better future in seven African nations, shooting of which was almost finished when the pandemic hit. Support for this film also pays tribute to its late Swiss producer and former Locarno programmer Tiziana Soudani who died in January.