Sitting in the Piazza Grande at the Locarno Film Festival makes for a movie-watching experience that is nearly indescribable. All good films deserve to be watched this way. Last night I had the chance to have this experience for the first time at the pre-festival screening of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. It was my first time seeing this film, and there could not have been a better possible way to showcase this classic, brilliant movie. Seeing Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway on the massive outdoor screen with eight thousand people in the Piazza was an incredible experience. This screening is just one of the unique elements that the Locarno Film Festival has to offer. It is a festival about discovery, about the experience of watching a film, and about keeping films that have been seen countless times relevant and lively.
The Locarno Film Festival is now in its 66th year, and it has maintained a reputation for discovering new talents and pushing the boundaries of cinema. This is a fearless festival, as it looks for films that will challenge audiences and bring to light topics that may be unconventional and even uncomfortable, but that deserve to be seen and need to find their specific audiences. Locarno takes finding new talent to a whole new level, as it hosts academies for students, teaching them how to navigate their careers and giving them a platform from which they can gain experiences that are entirely unique. The Locarno Film Festival hosts the Summer Academy, which offers programs for film critics, film makers, documentary makers, and also a workshop for jury members.
The small town of Locarno, located in the Italian region of Switzerland, is extremely proud of their festival and its shows. The leopard logo is displayed all over the city, from stores and restaurants to park benches. The town is buzzing with excitement as the festival prepares to begin. Today is the first official day of the festival, which opens with the international premiere of the Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg action film 2 Guns, directed by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur. This premier is just one example of a more mainstream film being screened at the festival, as the festival tries to balance out some more commercial films with art-house, auteur cinema.
The line-up this year is impressive, with films that range over many different subjects, genres, and appeals. For example, films as diverse as L’Etrange Couleur des Larmes de Ton Corps (The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears) and Blue Ruin, which are both also screening at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival in the Vanguard programme, will be sharing the screen with something as light as the latest film by Richard Curtis (most known for Love Actually), About Time starring Rachel McAdams. Some special events occurring at this year’s festival include a retrospective of the works of director George Cukor, and such talents as Werner Herzog, Faye Dunaway, and Christopher Lee participating in conversations and being honoured for their lifetime achievements.
A few films that are standouts to me in this year’s line-up include Gare Du Nord, The Dirties, and Short Term 12. Gare Du Nord is a film by French film maker Claire Simon that chronicles the stories of people who cross paths at the Gare du Nord Train Station in Paris, in an “everyone-is-connected” way. The Dirties is a particular standout as it is a first feature from Canadian director and York University alumni, Matt Johnson, who also stars in the film. He tackles the topic of bullying and school shootings with an off-the-wall style. Short Term 12 is one of the American indies at the festival, starring Brie Larson in a film about foster care than won the Audience Award at the South by Southwest Film Festival in the narrative feature category. These films all stand out to me due to my personal taste, but with a lineup as diverse in genre, theme, and style as Locarno’s, there is something for everyone. However, the festival as a whole seems to be geared towards the passionate film lover, as the films generally push the boundaries that an average audience is not always willing to forgo.
It is the only the opening day of the festival, and things are just about to kick off, but with Locarno, we can expect twelve amazing days that will celebrate film in all of its forms, catering to the most diverse of audiences, and celebrating the art that brings people from around the world together. There isn’t a better way to get the film discussion rolling than with a festival as diverse and essential as Locarno.