The opening night of the Locarno Film Festival was led by a pair of rousing call to arms for the theatrical experience.

Early on it was rain, rather than COVID-19, which threatened to put a dampener on proceedings, as sodden conditions in the famous Piazza Grande forced the world premiere of “Beckett” indoors. However, ironically, the comments made by the Netflix film’s lead John David Washington felt even more powerful in front of a vast, crowded indoor theatre.

Asked how he found playing the film’s central character, an American tourist who gets caught up in a deadly manhunt, Washington had a blunt, yet thoughtful response.

“Stressful,” Washington began, to a titter from the crowd. “I just connected with the story. When I think about Beckett, I think of survival and that’s very personal to me. Part of the reason we’re all here tonight is survival of the theatrical experience, so that’s what connected me to it.”

Washington’s words were met with rapturous applause, and mere minutes before, festival president Marco Solari had issued an even firmer stance on theatrical distribution.

Solari said Locarno will continue to serve as a unique environment to celebrate to see films on the big screen, switching to English for a moment to invoke Winston Churchill.

“We shall never surrender,” Solari repeated several times.

The launch of “Beckett” at Locarno represents a homecoming of sorts for its director Ferdinando Cito Filomarino, who burst onto the scene in 2010 when his short “Diarchia” picked up the fest’s Leopard of Tomorrow prize.

Filomarino described Locarno as a “place of baptism” for him, adding that being back at the fest with his Greece-set thriller felt like “being comfortable, back at home.”

Washington and the director were joined on stage by co-star Vicky Krieps (a recent standout from M. Night Shyamalan’s “Old” and a firecracker in “Phantom Thread”), who was asked how she connected with her activist character.

“It’s very easy when you walk down the street in any kind of town and you just talk to the next person sleeping in the street and you ask them how they feel about today, or about capitalism. It was really easy,” Krieps said.

Earlier in the night, Laetitia Casta received the Locarno’s Excellence Award Davide Campari, which pays tribute to film personalities who have left their personal stamp on contemporary cinema.

Speaking almost entirely in Italian, Casta discussed her ability to move between modeling and acting, sharing that meetings with legendary designers Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier when she was still only a teenager helped inspire her to take up acting.