Locarno Film Fest Finds Voice With Female-Centered Lineup

Piazza Grande
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Locarno's vast open-space screening area the Piazza Grande will welcome several current Hollywood films including J.J. Abrams' "Super 8,"  Justin Timberlake-Mila Kunis comedy "Friends With Benefits" and "Cowboys & Aliens."

Artistic director Carlo Chatrian discusses why he believes more woman filmmakers will be breaking into international festivals.

Every year as the major players roll out their festival lineups from North America to Europe, there’s a public outcry at the lack of female directors in the programming. This year's Locarno Film Festival, which is set to run Wednesday through Aug. 13, is taking advantage of its indie cred and taking a gamble on new voices with one of the most female-heavy lineups seen in years in any major festival.

Of the 17 world premieres in competition this year at Locarno, eight are helmed by women, an achievement that artistic director Carlo Chatrian credits with not having to be beholden to the older generations of directors.

Beyond representing films from all over the globe, the festival has an incredibly varied mix of retrospectives this year, including tributes to Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jane Birkin, Bill Pullman, David Linde, Howard Shore and Roger Corman, as well as one for Abbas Kiarostami. And films gracing the 8,000-seat outdoor Piazza Grande range from Paul Greengrass’ Jason Bourne to Colm McCarthy’s The Girl With All the Gifts.

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Chatrian from his offices in Switzerland about how he has programmed one of the most diverse fest lineups this year, and his challenges leading a top European festival into 2020.

THR: How many films did you watch this year?

Chatrian: Maybe too many, as usual. I didn’t count them but it would be around 700, 800. I don’t remember. A lot. It’s not a matter of judging whether the film is good or bad but more evaluating if it fits with our program or not. Sometimes you understand you don’t need to watch the whole film to understand if can work.

You have a wonderful representation of female directors this year competing for the Golden Leopard. How would you respond to the larger trend of women being excluded from international festivals?

This year the main competition also hosts a larger number of upcoming directors. I think this is kind of a reflection of a changing direction of world cinema. Because if you are talking about a director that belongs to the generation of the ‘60s, those directors are really few. So if you are composing a lineup of big established directors, it’s very hard, simply because they are few. Instead, if you are composing your lineup focusing on upcoming directors, then the women are more present simply because I think that cinema is changing and think that also, little by little, Venice, Cannes or Berlin will go in this direction.

The chance I have with Locarno is I have more freedom. I don’t have to have all the big masters, but I can also include even in the main competition a film made by debut directors and directors who have made one or two films, which makes me very happy because I have more freedom in composing the program.

Do you think things are changing globally for female filmmakers?

It’s very complicated. It would be a very long answer because there are countries like Japan where the situation is not good at all for women. But what makes me happy is we have a director from Thailand, a female director from Switzerland, a female director from Bulgaria, so it’s not only France or Germany or the U.S. or the countries in which cinema is more established.

This is the first year we have this incredibly large number of female directors and I think we need to wait a bit and see, but what a female director can bring is a different approach, a different sensibility. Just to give an example, we have one film shot by a male director from Japan and another one made by a female director from Thailand, and both deal with the military dictatorship in those countries. And it’s very interesting because you have a different kind of approach on the same topic.

I think we need diversity to understand the world we are living in. And, of course, female directors, female scriptwriters, female producers bring this diversity. It’s not the only issue, but for sure it’s a kind of enrichment that cinema has to go into.

Your first festival as artistic director was in 2013. How does it feel to have your contract renewed until 2020?

Well, yes, I’m very happy, and I think all the stuff we are going through is a process. Next year we will have a new theater, so it’s good to have a little bit of perspective to work on and you can organize not only the single edition but also to work more medium-term, whether it's respective programs or a guest you really want to have or something more complex.

What would be your dream festival in 2020? Where do you see it going?

Look, it’s very hard to see the future. I don't know. Also, I’m asking myself what will be the position of the cinema itself in four years' time because when I’m looking back at cinema, it’s changed so much in terms of production, situation, everything. The new platforms, I think, they are changing. I still think of the festival as a gathering point, as a place for meeting, as a place for exchanging experience. But maybe we will be able to project virtual reality. That will be a unique experience.

Michael Cimino was a very memorable guest at Locarno last year, and we unfortunately lost him this year. Do you have any particular memories of him at the festival?

Cimino was a very precise person. We discussed every single detail from the print, from which sources we should get it, the time of the screening, etc. He was happy with the details to screen The Deer Hunter on the Piazza Grande as the second screening on a Saturday, but that night we had quite a big rainstorm starting more or less in the middle of the film. And the day after he was so angry at me. He told me, “You can’t do a screening when it’s supposed to rain. You do a screening in the desert!” But just to tell you how he can be generous changing his mind, I think only two hours later he did a master class which was supposed to end after only one hour and he did it for two hours in a row. At the end of the night, he thanked me because he had incredibly good feedback from the audience that stood with him under the rain watching the film.

He was in a very good mood when he was in Locarno, that’s something that I remember clearly. And I remember when we said goodbye, he said, “I want to come back, Carlo, but I want to come back with a film.” And it was at the same time tender because I know the situation he was living in in Hollywood and at the same time I felt he was sure of himself. So it was a kind of a movie moment.