Switzerland's Locarno Festival kicks off 71st edition with an eclectic program featuring 293 films

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Alex Macbeth - [email protected]
Switzerland's Locarno Festival kicks off 71st edition with an eclectic program featuring 293 films
The Piazza Grande open air venue at Locarno Festival. File photo: Reto Albertalli/AFP.

The 71st edition of the Locarno Festival, Switzerland's major film gala, kicks off today. The Local spoke to the organisers to find out about the program's highlights and how Swiss cinema features.


If "cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theatre," as Polish director Roman Polanski once said, then you should be heading to the shores of Lake Maggiore for Switzerland's most prestigious movie event of the year: Locarno Festival.

With 12 sections, 3 competitions and 25 awards, Locarno Festival is the highlight of the Swiss film calendar. This year's program features a total of 293 films from August 1st to August 8th in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino. 

But it is the open air Piazza Grande venue – "one of the finest open air venues in the world," according to the festival's website – which hosts 8,000 viewers per night that embodies Polanski's saying.

Audience members in the Piazza Grande get to be part of the largest live audience jury at any cinema event on the planet and vote on the Prix du Public UBS.

Ethan Hawke (Excellence Award 2018), Meg Ryan and Antoine Fuqua are among the guests of honour this year in Locarno. Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke is president of the jury. 

The 2018 Piazza Grande section features films directed by Spike Lee, Ethan Hawke, Jane Campion and Antoine Fuqua, among many others.

Afro-American director Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is competing in the Piazza Grande section (the award for which is awarded by the public) this year at Locarno. 

The festival's most prestigious prize, The Golden Leopard, is awarded each year to the outstanding film in the International Competition. Other sections highlight future talents (Leopard of Tomorrow), the history of cinema and programs for children. The Signs of Life section "aims to explore film’s frontier territories" while the Lifetime Achievement Award (Harrison Ford and Harvey Keitel are past winners) honours an outstanding career in cinema. There are also retrospectives featuring digitally restored classics. 

The action-packed The Equalizer 2, directed by Antoine Fuqua, stars Denzel Washington and also features in the Piazza Grande section.

"Last year, we had more than 3,000 accredited professional delegates, 1,000 accredited journalists and photographers, and 170,000 total entries by members of the public," Arturo Ratti, from the festival's press team, told The Local. Similar numbers are expected this year. 

Besides nearly 300 film screenings, the festival also hosts talks, industry-focused events and interactive initiatives for audience members. "There are a lot of parallel events related to the Festival that we call Locarno Experience. Like Locarno Garden la Mobiliare and Locarno Talks," the festival's Ratti told The Local.

For those who prefer music to cinema, the Locarno Grande La Mobiliare garden events, hosted in the Parco Balli at the heart of Locarno's old town, features live music and DJ sets throughout the festival's eight days. 

Locarno Experience even advises visitors on where to get the best ice cream, which caves to visit in the region, offers tips for walks in the mountains and has practical information on accommodation and getting to and around the city of Locarno. 

The Panorama Suisse section gives a platform to Swiss cinema. "Film lovers from all over the world have the opportunity to discover current Swiss filmmaking in its own dedicated section," states the festival website.

"Swiss cinema is important for us," Ratti told The Local. "The international visibility and participation is also important, but we do not overlook our country. As a springboard festival, we have to support the Swiss to develop and evolve."

Ten Swiss films form the Panorama Suisse program this year. 

"It’s of huge benefit for Swiss cinema to have this event in the neighbourhood and a great chance every year to get in contact with international filmmakers," Daniel Fuchs, head of PR at Swiss Films, Switzerland's film promotion agency and one of the sponsors of Panorama Suisse, told The Local by email. "Locarno is one of the most important film festivals in the world," added Fuchs. 

Glaubenberg, by Thomas Imbach, is a Swiss film competing for the main prize in the International Competition section. 

Switzerland produces roughly 200 feature films each year, according to Fuchs, but events like Locarno Festival give local filmmakers the chance to reach out to the world. "For a small country, international co-productions have a very important influence," says Swiss Films' Fuchs. As of this year, Swiss films will be able to seek co-production deals with Mexico too as part of a new bilateral agreement, adds Fuchs. 

My Beloved Enemy by Swiss-Italian director Denis Rabaglia and The Guest by Duccio Chiarini are two of the highlights presented by Swiss Films at the festival this year. 

Mario, an LGBT drama, features in the Panorama Suisse section. 

Besides screening Swiss films, Locarno Festival also supports Swiss filmmakers to seek international co-productions. Three Swiss films have been selected as part of Locarno Pro, the industry-orientated film market at the festival.

Grassroots initiatives to support the future of Swiss cinema are also in place. The festival is running five academies as part of its program: a Filmmakers Academy, a Critics Academy, an Industry Academy, a Documentary Summer School and the Cinema & Youth initiative. 

Locarno Festival is held at ten venues across the city. Day passes range from 52 to 56 Swiss francs (€45-€48); tickets for the Piazza Grande range from 18 to 37 Swiss francs (€15.5-€32). 'Season tickets' for the whole festival and student discounts are also available. 

READ MORE: Swiss police arrest man in Deadpool costume



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