Locarno to Honor John Waters With Career Golden Leopard

Getty Images
John Waters

Waters is set to receive the Swiss festival's lifetime achievement award in August.

The quiet Swiss town of Locarno will be welcoming Baltimore’s own "Pope of Trash" this year. The 72nd Locarno Film Festival is set to honor John Waters with the career Golden Leopard. He will accept his award Aug. 16 at the Piazza Grande, Europe’s largest outdoor screening venue.

Previous honorees of Locarno’s lifetime achievement award include Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach, Michael Cimino and Agnes Varda. 

Festival attendees will be treated to screenings of Cecil B. DeMentedA Dirty Shame and Female Trouble, as well as a special screening of Polyester, complete with Odorama. Viewers will receive scratch and sniff cards to smell during the film, an olfactory experience that accompanied the film’s initial release in 1981.

The director, actor, writer and artist will also meet with attendees to discuss his work Aug. 17, as well as hold a special master class with young filmmakers of the Locarno Academy.

In 1969, Waters directed his first feature film, Mondo Trasho, starring Harris Glenn Milstead, aka Divine. His 1970 film Multiple Maniacs earned him the reputation of the “Prince of Puke.”

And 1972’s Pink Flamingos saw Divine protecting her own tabloid title of the “Filthiest Person Alive.” The film was part of Waters’ “trash trilogy,” followed by Female Trouble (1974) and Desperate Living (1977).

Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray was his last collaboration with Divine, who died shortly after the release. The film was nominated for six Independent Spirit Awards and became an iconic part of pop culture. It was later adapted into a Broadway musical that swept the 2003 Tony Awards, which was also adapted into a critically lauded 2007 film.

He next directed Johnny Depp in the cult favorite Cry-Baby in 1990 and Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom in 1994. After a long acting stint he returned to directing with 1998's Pecker and later Cecil B. DeMented, A Dirty Shame and Kiddie Flamingos

This year marks Lili Hinstin’s first as Artistic Director of Locarno. She described her choice in honoring Waters as “the perfect manifesto” to her new direction of the festival. “His outrageous, entertaining and joyous work is a symbol of freedom, far removed from the political correctness that rules us today,” she said of the announcement. “His political and aesthetic commitment is vital nowadays, and I’m extremely pleased and honored to share his incredible body of work with the Locarno audience.”

Waters is also taking a brief role as curator of this year, choosing King Vidor’s 1928 silent film classic Show People to open Locarno. The special screening on the afternoon of Aug. 7 will feature live music by Philippe Beran’s Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana. “Any movie that pokes fun at Hollywood, that mocks Gloria Swanson’s first films, that features Marion Davies (the most famous 'official mistress' in history), that is directed by King Vidor (I’m especially fond of Beyond the Forest and Stella Dallas), that has cameos by Louella Parsons, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, cannot be altogether bad,” said Waters. “In fact, it sounds perfect to me.”

The 72nd Locarno Film Festival takes place Aug. 7-17. The festival's previously announced career retrospective to Breakfast at Tiffany’s director Blake Edwards has been postponed. The 2019 edition will now present Black Light, a retrospective on Black cinema of the 20th century, curated by Greg de Cuir Jr.