Johnnie To, 'While We Where Here' Among Highlights at Locarno Thursday

Johnnie To
Michael Buckner/Getty Images

Soi Chaeng, director of "Motorway," asked the massive crowd to pose for a photo he would send to his screenwriter Kam-Yuen Szeto who was unable to travel because of cancer treatments.

LOCARNO, Swizerland – Hong Kong director and producer Johnnie To was given the Locarno Film Festival’s lifetime achievement prize in the Piazza Grande Thursday, while Soi Chaeng, director of the thriller Che sau (Motorway) that screened later in the evening, called for the nearly full Piazza Grande crowd to pose for a picture for the film’s screenwriter Kam-Yuen Szeto, who was unable to make the trip to Locarno for health reasons.

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Che sau was the final film of a rare triple bill in Piazza Grande, where it was preceded by the international premiere of While We Where Here, a picturesque black-and-white drama about a married woman’s love affair on the Italian island of Ischia directed by Kat Coiro, and The Black Balloon, a comedy short from bothers Josh and Benny Safdie.

With The Black Balloon lasting just 22 minutes and both Che sau and While We Where Here weighing in at under 90 minutes each, the three-film evening lasted less than 3 hours and 30 minutes, shorter than most Locarno double bills.

Part of the award presentation to To was lost in translation when artistic director Olivier Pere asked him how he managed to always make his home city of Hong Kong so “beautiful, exciting, and poetic.” To’s translated answer was that he was happy to be in Locarno.

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But the 57-year-old who has more than 50 director credits and nearly 70 producer credits to his name, also read a statement promising to return to Locarno in the future with a film he directed. This year, he was represented by Che sau, which he produced.

Soon after To's award presentation, Soi expressed delight at his first visit to Locarno’s famous 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, but said he was saddened that Kam-Yuen, his most frequent collaborator, could not make the trip. He asked the massive crowd to wave their hands in a greeting to Kam-Yuen so he could photograph them, and send it home to the screenwriter, who is battling cancer. The crowd obliged enthusiastically.

The 65th edition of the Locarno festival, which began August 1, will conclude on Saturday.