For its 75th edition, Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival, long known as a global indie cinema temple, is looking to the future while repositioning itself as a forward-thinking hub for a wider range of movies, including studio and streamer titles, with broad audience appeal.
“We believe that entertainment can be both serious and fun: I don’t see an opposing scenario where entertainment is only cheap, and seriousness is only extremely highbrow,” says the fest’s artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro.
Now on his second edition at the fest’s helm, the Italian critic is putting his stamp on Locarno with a lineup that, along with straightforward auteur movies of various kinds, increasingly includes comedies and genre films. The fest’s eclectic nature is illustrated by t he choice of the opener, Sony ’s frothy action thriller “Bullet Train,” directed by David Leitch, which Aaron Taylor-Johnson will be tubthumping on Aug. 3 on the 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, and the closer on Aug. 13, “Everything About Martin Suter,” directed by André Schäfer and dedicated to Suter, who is considered the greatest living Swiss author.
“The philosophy is to provide a wide range of films that are all hugely entertaining, while not eschewing larger issues,” adds Nazzaro. He cites films such as U.S. director Olivia Newman’s “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which “is basically about how a woman can self-determine her fate”; French director Blandine Lenoir’s “Angry Annie,” which harkens back to the times when abortion was illegal in France and is particularly timely in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S.; and German director Kilian Riedhof’s French-language drama “You Will Not Have My Hate,” which deals with the aftermath of the 2015 terrorist attack at the Bataclan club in Paris, “but in a finely felt way that is not political or ideological.” Among other pics Nazzaro points out are Italian director Michele Vannucci’s environmental thriller “Delta,” Swiss comedy “Last Dance,” toplining France’s François Berléand (“Les Choristes”) and a bold period laffer titled “Il Pataffio” by Italy’s Francesco Laghi, adapted from a book by Italian author Luigi Malerba that also served as the basis for late, great Commedia all’Italiana master Mario Monicelli’s two “Armata Brancaleone” comedies.
Meanwhile, on the industry side, Locarno is also expanding its scope in what is expected to be a banner year, now that pandemic-prompted restrictions have been lifted.
“Locarno is a place of discovery not just for films, but for talents,” says Markus Duffner, who heads the fest’s industry side, Locarno Pro. He notes how its many programs, which include an Industry Academy training workshop, t he Match Me! net work i ng forum, the StepIN think tank and Open Doors project springboard, now focused on smaller Latin American territories, make Locarno a prime event for “film professionals to spend quality time on networking and getting to know new players, besides doing deals.” In terms of buyers, top U.S.
indie distributors such as A24, Bleeker Street, Film Movement, Kino Lorber, Oscilloscope and Cinetic will attend, alongside a slew of their European counterparts including France’s Pyramide, Le Pact, Memento and Wild Bunch, Germany’s Beta Cinema, Denmark’s TrustNordisk and Italy’s True Colours.
Killer Films chief Christine Vachon will hold a masterclass, as will Neon’s head of distribution Elissa Federoff, who will be talking about how to release original language films in the U.S. And producer Jason Blum, known for shepherding hit horror franchises such as “Paranormal Activity” and more recently the films “Whiplash,” “Get Out” and Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” will be honored with Locarno’s Raimondo Rezzonico Prize for a producer who epitomizes the indie ethos.
Netflix, Amazon Studios and arthouse streamer Mubi will also be making the trek to the Swiss lakeside town.
Duffner, who is also founder of the cult film VOD platform Spamflix, last year launched Locarno Pro’s Heritage Online, a first-of-its-kind platform that serves as a database and business facilitator for vintage cinema. He is also proud of the fact that, in keeping with the fest’s pioneering spirit, Locarno will be hosting a panel on new strategies for vintage film distribution, from theatrical releases to sales through NFTs.