Locarno Director Carlo Chatrian on His Last Festival Before Taking Over Berlin and His Legacy

Carlo Chatrian

The 46-year-old Italian remembers championing new talents like Brie Larson and Lav Diaz before they hit it big.

Since taking over the Locarno Film Festival in 2012, artistic director Carlo Chatrian has transformed the Swiss gathering into a true film lover’s paradise.

While the rest of Europe begins August vacations, cinema devotees travel to the resort town to revel in Chatrian’s latest discoveries from around the world.

The 71st edition of the festival opens Wednesday and will feature 15 competition films, including 13 world premieres, with 17 features screening in the outdoor Piazza Grande cinema, which seats 8,000.

The Italian programmer, 46, has earned a reputation as a true champion of the filmmaker and has helped to shepherd the careers of such filmmakers as Hong Sang-soo, Lav Diaz and Albert Serra.

The Berlin Film Festival took notice and picked Chatrian to replace outgoing festival director Dieter Kosslick as artistic director after the 2019 Berlin fest.   

While Chatrian is excited to take on the new opportunity, he admits that there is much he will miss about the small Swiss town and film community where he has spent a great deal of his life over the past seven years. THR spoke to him about what he is most proud of and what he is most looking forward to at this year's festival.

Since taking over Locarno, you have always tried to surprise the audience.  Do you hope that Locarno continues this tradition?

I am happy you say that. There is always the desire or the will to find new voices because they are coming from new countries or they are coming from new directors. I think that there is this need because cinema nowadays, at least in the last two decades, even independent cinema, lacks diversity, and not only in terms of stories, but really in terms of the language cinema uses. Our selection really struggles to find films that are not perfect ones, but ones that try to undergo new paths. I hope that we have always managed to surprise press, professionals and audiences.

What are you most excited for in Locarno this year?

I’m very happy this year to be able to welcome Ethan Hawke, because he’s an artist whom I admire a lot, especially because he’s going to come with his new film, Blaze, which is really something strong and touching, and I was moved by the film. It’s a big event.

But also, another emotional event, the recent loss of Vittorio Taviani, the celebration we are going to give to his brother, Paolo, that is something that I’m looking forward to, because their work means a lot to me, and I think it’s going to be a very, very intense moment for the Piazza Grande.

Over your years in Locarno, you exposed European audiences to a lot of new American talent. Was there one example you were most proud of?

One example is my first year in 2013 when we premiered Short Term 12, by Destin Daniel Cretton. The audience gave Brie Larson a standing ovation, and then she got the best actress award. This I think was one of the major moments because it was really when the festival embraced the work of an artist, but also the work of an actress. But then knowing that this actress has an Academy Award is something that makes me proud.

Another example is celebrating the history of cinema. I was very, very touched in the first year when we awarded Faye Dunaway. I’m nostalgic because I’m leaving next year perhaps. But for me her work meant a lot to me, films like Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown. Also, she embodies a kind of femme fatale of the classical cinema. And I remember I was very thrilled to have her on stage, and the audience was very moved.

Each year for me there is a double direction like this, of a new talent and a celebration of an artist who is already recognized.

Also in terms of directors who have won the Golden Leopard and gone on to great acclaim, is there one that you are particularly proud of championing?

Lav Diaz is a good example. When he arrived to Locarno with From What Is Before, he was already known among festivalgoers, but it was the first time a major film festival put one of his films in a main competition.

And the fact that he won the Golden Leopard, I believe that it helped him to become recognized, because the film was successful also among the public. We had to do two double screenings because the people really wanted to see it, so it’s not like it was only for a bunch of cinephiles. And after that, finding out that his films were put in competition in Venice and Berlin, I think it’s a good sign, where other major festivals followed our path.

In general, what has been your proudest accomplishment during your tenure at Locarno?

What I think is very strong and unique in Locarno is the possibility to really confront the audience. I’m on the Piazza Grande every night. I have to speak, even if to say just a few words, but I have to explain the film of the night, or the guest, and to be brief but at the same time try to convey some emotion. And this is something unique, because you do it in front of 8,000 people, but also during the day, introducing films at the FEVI, our main theater, which is also for 3,000 people, which is not a small thing. To be able to do that for me is not a small thing.

I like to be on stage. The festival programmers or directors create bridges between people who make the film and the audience. And this is the moment where I can have a physical perception of this bridge, even with a few words.