Locarno's Chatrian On His New Job, the Fest's Need for Continuity, and His Taste For 'Back to the Future' (Q&A)

Carlo Chatrian - H 2012

Chatrian, 41, was plucked from his behind-the-scenes role as a programer in September. He will now lead one of the world's most storied festivals.

ROME – Known in film circles for frequently shining an early light on up-and-coming new film directors, the 66-year-old Locarno Film Festival is hoping to do the same with its newest artistic director.

To the extent that the 41-year-old Carlo Chatrian was known before being named as Locarno’s newest artistic director in September, it was mostly to fans of the festival’s well-regarded retrospectives Chatrian curated. That’s a far lower profile than that of Chatrian’s predecessor Olivier Père, who came to Locarno in 2009 after a successful stint as the head of the Directors’ Fortnight section in Cannes. But Locarno’s leadership believes that in Chatrian, whose history with the festival dates back ten years, they have found a diamond in the rough.

“I have been keeping a watchful eye on Carlo Chatrian for several years now,” Marco Solari, the festival’s president, said after Chatrian was named as Père’s replacement. “I am sure he is the right person for this important task.”

If it works out as planned, it could be seen as a case of business as usual for a festival credited with recognizing the talents of Stanley Kubrick (who came to Locarno with Killer’s Kiss in 1959), Raúl Ruiz (Tres Tristes Tigres in 1968), Spike Lee (Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads, in 1983), and Ki-duk Kim (Sping, Summer, Fall, Winter … and Spring, in 2003), among others, very early on.

Chatrian, in his first interview with an international news outlet since his appointment, spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in Rome about his sudden change in visibility and how a young main weaned on Jules Verne and Back to the Future learned to appreciate Godard and Truffault en route to his appointment to head one of the world’s oldest film festivals.

The Hollywood Reporter: The departure of Olivier Père was a big surprise, and when people speculated about who might take over for him after the news broke, your name never came up, and so it’s probably safe to say that was a surprise as well. Were you any less surprised than the rest of us? Why do you think you were selected?

Carlo Chatrian: Yes, yes. I was very surprised. I think the president, Marco Solari, wanted someone who knew the festival well from the inside in order to continue the same general line we have been on. Over the last ten years or so, Locarno has had too many artistic directors [Chatrian is the festival’s fifth artistic director since the 2001 edition]. This is not Cannes or Venice where certain types of films schedule their release to meet the festival’s schedule. In Locarno, you have to build relationships with filmmakers and distributors and for that you need a certain level continuity.

THR: Up until now you have been a festival programmer, as well as a journalist and author, but never an artistic director. Is that something you always wanted to do?

CC:  I don’t think of things in those terms; I don’t have those kinds of ambitions. I do the best job I can at whatever I do and then I see where it takes me. Now that I’m the Locarno artistic director I can look back and see signs that pointed in this direction. But there was never any grand plan.

THR: Earlier you said something about following the same general line as Olivier Père. What exactly do you mean by that?

CC: It’s a general idea. I’m not Olivier Père; I’m Carlo Chatrian. But my tastes and Olivier’s tastes intersect at many points. We share the general idea of using the festival to mix well-known directors with auteurs with new directors, for example, to mix experimental with traditional films, to approach things with an open mind. I think we both try to see cinema across 360 degrees. But I am conscious of my own tastes and my own vision, and those are what will guide me.

THR: What differentiates Locarno from other festivals in your mind?

CC: It’s a fantastic festival for film lovers, and the artistic director can pick whatever film he wants. There are pressures, sure. But they are artistic pressures, pressures to pick good films. There is never any political pressure, where someone says you have to take this film or you can’t take that one. That is very important to me.

THR:  How has your taste in film evolved over the years?

CC: Well, the passion of the cinéphile came later on for me. I always loved films but at first they weren’t necessarily films with great artistic value. As a kid I loved adventure stories like Jules Verne films, and comedies, like those of [Italian comic icon] Totò. Then as an adolescent, I started to enjoy New Hollywood productions like the Indiana Jones films or Back to the Future. It was in high school that my tastes started to mature and I discovered cinema d’auteur, with Italian directors like Marco Bellocchio and Bernardo Bertolucci. That led me to Nouvelle Vague directors, especially Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffault, and Jacques Rivette. I am happy to have had this kind of evolution because it helps me appreciate many kinds of film.

THR: One of the challenges for Locarno has always been that it takes place such a short time before Venice [in 2013, there will be only 11 days between Locarno’s close and the opening ceremony in Venice]. Do you see this as a major problem?

CC: I think every festival has its own path and there are some films that are fits for Locarno but not Venice and some that are fits for Venice and not Locarno.

THR: Sure, that’s true. But there are also a great many films that would be great fits for both events.

CC: [Chuckles] Yes, that’s true as well. But we can’t do anything about that and we’ll try to get the best films we can, and if it’s a film Venice wants we’ll try to convince the distributor that Locarno is a great launching pad for the project, whether because of the Piazza Grande or the kind of public we attract. But there have been enough good films for both festivals. Regardless, it’s never going to be a contentious issue. I have worked together with [new Venice artistic director] Alberto Barbera and we have a great rapport. Venice is never going to change its dates, and we aren’t going to change ours, simply because it’s a festival for a public on their August vacations. It’s not something I worry about.

THR: What is one way you think your version of the festival will differ from previous editions?

CC: One of Locarno’s biggest strengths is the Piazza Grade [Europe’s largest outdoor venue, with 8,000 seats]. I’d like to see the selection for the Piazza Grande be more representative of the whole festival. If Open Doors is looking at African film that year, show one of those films in the Piazza Grande. Show something from the retrospectives, from each part of the program. I’d like a film lover who attends Piazza Grande screenings to have a taste of the entire festival.