Swiss Film 'The Blocher Experience' Brings Controversy to Locarno

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Swiss politician Christoph Blocher

The festival also honored producer Margaret Menegoz and announced the winners from its Open Doors co-production lab.

LOCARNO, Switzerland – The Locarno Film Festival took a political turn Tuesday, with the Piazza Grande screening of L’Experience Blocher (The Blocher Experience) -- about polarizing Swiss politician Christoph Blocher -- that resulted in heightened security and a bigger-than-usual piazza weeknight crowd.

The festival also honored producer Margaret Menegoz with the Raimondo Rezzonico award for independent producers (the prize is named for a long-time festival president), while giving special recognition to Nadia Dresti, the head of Locarno’s Industry Days market event.

Earlier in the day announcing the winners of the Open Doors co-production initiative, which this year focused on the Caucuses.

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Meanwhile, director Abel Ferrara arrived in town, recalling his 2011 appearance in the Piazza Grande. A few restaurants and bars around town were showing the video where, after receiving the festival’s highest career honor, he broke into an impromptu music concert and thought that catcalls for him to stop playing were the rain-soaked crowd asking for him to continue.

Earlier in the festival, actress Jacqueline Bisset, herself the recipient of an achievement honor at this year’s event, revealed filming had been completed on Ferrara’s Welcome to New York, in which she plays the wife of French political leader and former International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn (played by Gerard Depardieu), who was arrested in New York on rape allegations (he was later cleared of those charges).

Blocher is a controversial European political leader in his own right. The film he stars in, directed by Jean-Stephane Bron, is based on an unlikely collaboration: Blocher is known for his often extreme right-wing views and is credited with changing Swiss opinion against joining the European Union, while Bron, a Locarno regular, is known for holding left-wing opinions.

The Piazza Grande screening was the world premiere for the film, which has been hotly anticipated in Switzerland for weeks. Security concerns prompted festival organizers to deploy extra security personnel around the piazza, while the large and predominantly Swiss crowd was perfectly silent once the film starting screening.

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The honor for Menegoz drew strong applause from the crowd waiting to see L’Experience Blocher. Menegoz has produced more than 50 films in a career dating back to the mid-1970s -- her latest project was Michael Haneke’s Amour, which won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar this year -- and she said the cinema world needed independent producers like the ones Locarno’s Rezzonico prize sought to honor.

“The major studios are risk averse and they have stopped looking for new writers and directors,” Menegoz said. “It is up to us to find them, and then the studios hire them away.”

Dresti, the veteran head of the Industry Days event that concluded Monday, declared it a success, echoing the comments from buyers who reported a healthy flurry of sales for films screening in the festival this year.

Open Doors also concluded Tuesday. The co-development lab focuses on a specific region each year and selects film projects to help, bringing a dozen director-producer teams to Locarno and handing out cash awards to the best of them. This year, the most decorated film in Open Doors was See you in Chechnya from Alexander Kvatashidze, which won both the Open Doors Production Award -- the section’s biggest price -- and the ARTE Open Doors Award, meaning the project will return home with a total of nearly $30,000 toward completing production.

Other winners from the project were Abysm from Armenian director Oksana Mirzoyan, Madona from Nino Gogua of the Republic of Georgia, and Sleeping Lessons from Georgia’s Rusudan Pirvelli.

Twitter: @EricJLyman