Locarno Festival at 75: reeling in the past with an eye on the future
Throughout the years and generations of film making, Locarno Film Festival has attentively changed with the times but hasn’t lost its raison d’être, namely a grand celebration of cinema, with its unique blend of past, present and future. This year – as the festival celebrates its 75th edition – is no exception.
There is much to celebrate in this tiny, picturesque town at the margins of Lake Maggiore, in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. It is its first full-blown edition since 2019 and the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Movie makers and fans from overseas are back, hotels are fully booked and all the venues operating.
The program brings a wide selection of films smartly curated by Giona A. Nazzaro, the festival’s artistic director, who displays his distinctive, omnivorous mark that made his name as a film critic and programmer before taking the reins of Locarno last year. Faithful to the Locarno spirit, la cinephile takes precedence over the hypes of the film market.
Where Hollywood meets arthouse
Nazzaro is not a newcomer at Locarno; he has religiously attended the festival since 1994. That year, Pulp Fiction was shown in the Piazza Grande open-air screen with its director Quentin Tarantino in attendance, right in the wake of his striking triumph in Cannes – nobody knew Tarantino before, and nobody could avoid knowing him after that.
But for Nazzaro the festival made a deeper impression: “The first two films I ever saw in the Piazza were Speed and Through the Olive Trees,” he says, summing up Locarno’s uniqueness. On one hand, a quintessential American action film; on the other, a self-reflexive Iranian drama.
Such a juxtaposition is part of the Locarno DNA. Carlo Chatrian, one of Nazzaro’s predecessors and currently the artistic director of the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale), tells a similar story of when he first attended the festival in the late 1990s: “You could watch the retrospective of an avant-garde filmmaker like Jonas Mekas, and then see There’s Something About Mary in Piazza Grande.”
The two critics and programmers joined the festival’s team during the tenure of Frédéric Maire, currently the director of the Cinematèque Suisse (Swiss Film Archives). Zurich-born Nazzaro began his career as a moderator and translator for film delegations speaking German or Swiss German but soon began to personally engage with writers and makers from all over the world.