Locarno Golden Leopard Honoree Blasts Venice, Cannes Film Fests

Otar Iosseliani P

Georgian filmmaker Otar Iosseliani took home a career award, but only after some choice words about Europe's oldest fests.

LOCARNO, Switzerland – Georgian filmmaker Otar Iosseliani, in Locarno to receive the festival’s Golden Leopard career honor, sparked both gasps and applause Monday when he used the award ceremony to take swipes at Europe’s oldest film festivals.

Iosseliani, 79, has been a festival regular over his long career, and on Monday he expressed great admiration for Locarno, which, he said, “set the standard for quality films.” But he also raised eyebrows with his harsh critiques of rival festivals.

“We have to remember that the Venice Film Festival was founded by [Italian Fascist leader Benito] Mussolini, and now it is leaning back in that direction,” Iosseliani said, handing his Golden Leopard statue to nearby Locarno artistic director Carlo Chatrian so he could gesture more freely as he spoke. “Despite the good work of [Cannes president] Gilles Jacob, Cannes sold its soul to the major studios a long time ago.

“It is only Locarno that remains dedicated to art-house cinema and intellectual reflection,” he continued. “It is only Locarno that is willing to take risks to defend artistic films.”

Chatrian appeared momentarily embarrassed by Iosseliani's remarks before embracing the director and thanking him for his kind words about the festival.

Venice, which will celebrate its 70th edition later this month, and Cannes, which held its 66th edition in May, are the only film festivals in the world with histories as long as Locarno, which is in the midst of its 66th edition.

As part of its homage to Iosseliani, Locarno screened three of his films: Iko shashvi mgalobeli (Once Upon a Time There Was a Singing Blackbird) (1970), Pastorali (Pastoral) (1975), and Chantrapas (2010).

Iosseliani was born in the part of the USSR that is now the Republic of Georgia, but he has lived in Paris for more than 30 years. He gave his remarks in French, refusing to pause between statements to allow for translation into Italian -- the official language in Locarno -- or English.

Not coincidentally, his award coincided with the festival’s formal recognition of the participants in the Open Doors co-production lab, which this year focused on the three countries in the Caucasus: Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Iosseliani’s native Georgia. Eleven of the 12 directors in the program (one had to leave early), which offers co-production help, were called up onstage and presented to the nearly full Piazza Grande crowd.

The evening’s Piazza Grande film was Gabrielle from Quebec director Louise Archambault, a coming-of-age story about a musically talented young woman with Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder. The title role was played by actress Gabrielle Marion-Rivard, who earned enthusiastic applause in the Piazza Grande by shouting “I love you, Locarno!” in Italian.

Gabrielle has the Locarno fest deep in its DNA: Archambault’s feature film debut, the post-divorce drama Familia, screened in competition in Locarno in 2005. And the film’s co-producer, Luc Dery, was a producer for Monsieur Lazhar, a drama about an Algerian immigrant teaching in a Montreal school, which won Locarno’s audience award two years ago and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

Monday was the halfway point for the festival, which runs Aug. 7-17.

Twitter: @EricJLyman