Producer Arnon Milchan, French Comedy 'Camille Rewinds' Are Tuesday's Highlights in Locarno

Arnon Milchan

Producer, "L.A. Confidential," "Fight Club"

Milchan's emotional remarks turned heads on a day in which Open Doors prizes were announced and Harry Belafonte talked about racism in Hollywood.

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- Veteran producer Arnon Milchan stole the show at the 65th Locarno Film Festival on Tuesday with a highly emotional and personal acceptance for his Leopard of Honor career award under clear skies in the festival’s Piazza Grande, just ahead of the international premiere of French director Noemie Lvivsky’s playful comedy Camille redouble (Camille Rewinds).

The awards for the Open Doors sidebar also were handed out Tuesday, while iconic calypso singer Harry Belafonte mused about his role in Carmen Jones, one of Otto Preminger’s most charged productions. The film screened Tuesday as part of Locarno’s comprehensive retrospective of Preminger’s 55-year career.

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The 68-year-old Milchan -- whose producer credits include Sergio Leone’s 1984 classic Once Upon a Time in America and Curtis Hanson’s 1997 crime drama L.A. Confidential, which earned Milchan an Oscar nomination -- said that Tuesday’s ceremony was the “most emotional moment of his career” because of Locarno’s film public, which he said was the most film smart and honest in the world.

Milchan did not want to exit the stage, at one point resisting artistic director Olivier Pere’s efforts to usher him to stage left. Milchan stood his ground, asking if anyone in the mostly full Piazza Grande wanted to ask him a question. One viewer, a woman who said her name was Laura, did, asking Milchan how he felt to be in Locarno that day. He took off his glasses to reveal that tears were welling up in his eyes and said he was “extraordinarily happy.” She asked is she could embrace him in the name of the crowd, and she did, sparking a standing ovation from many parts of the 8,800-seat Piazza Grande.

Following Milchan’s emotional acceptance, Lvivsky -- whose film screened for the first time since the Cannes Film Festival in May -- kept things simple, thanking a few people and allowing the film to speak for itself. The 47-year-old also starred in the film about a middle-aged woman in the midst of a difficult divorce who somehow travels back to her high school days and tries to avoid repeating her mistakes. The film was well received, possibly serving as a strong springboard for it to go into wide release Sept. 12 in France and a week later in Belgium.

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Earlier in the day, organizers of the Open Doors co-production lab announced their winners, including two grants of 15,000 Swiss francs ($15,060), two of 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,040) and two smaller collateral prizes.

Open Doors focuses on a different part of the world each year, and this year it chose 12 projects out of 20 applications from 17 countries in francophone Sub-Saharan Africa, narrowing the field to six winners Tuesday. In addition to the cash prizes, Open Doors organizes meetings with distributors to make it easier for the films to get distributed upon completion.

The winning films for the two largest grants were La Prochaine fois, le Feu (Fire Next Time), from Mati Diop of Senegal, and Ladji Nyè (The Eye), from Mali director Daouda Coulibaly. Burkina Faso director Michel K. Zongo and Madagascar’s Laza won the 10,000 franc prizes for their respective films Faso Fani, la fin du rêve (Faso Fani, the End of the Dream) and Fragments de vies (Pieces of Lives). The smaller secondary cash awards went to Zongo and Diop.

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Belafonte spoke to the crowd ahead of the screening of Carmen Jones, a take on the classic Georges Bizet opera Carmen, which Belafonte characterized as a "groundbreaking" production because of its all-black cast, a rarity in 1954 when the film was made. He said filming was completed in just 10 days to save on costs and even that was despite resistance from 20 Century Fox, which had second thoughts about making it. But once the film became a success -- it was nominated for two Oscars, and Belafonte said it was Fox’s top-grossing film that year -- it set the stage for future mainstream films featuring sophisticated roles for black protagonists.  

"Many of you people gathered here are too young to remember the way racial relations were in those days, but let me tell you, it was tough," Belafonte said. "This film helped make it a little easier for those who followed, and it's a valuable lesson to be learned because there are different battles to be fought today that are just as important."