Exploring film diversity and future collaborations | Sunday Observer
Exclusive Interview with Artistic Director of the 76 Locarno Film Festival:

Exploring film diversity and future collaborations

13 August, 2023

Amidst the bustling energy just two days before the grand closing ceremony of the 76th Locarno Film Festival, Artistic Director Giona A. Nazzaro, took a moment from his packed schedule to sit down for an exclusive Zoom interview with the Sunday Observer. This year’s Locarno Film Festival had showcased an array of films spanning genres and styles, making it a captivating experience for all audiences.

As the writer of this article, I was granted press accreditation for the festival, which provided me with access to nearly every film available on the festival’s digital library. With the festival now concluded and the closing ceremony on the horizon, Giona graciously shared insights on various facets of the festival’s curation, its commitment to gender diversity, its support for Southeast Asian cinema, and its influence on the artistic choices of filmmakers.

We explored the intricate process of assembling a diverse lineup that distinguishes Locarno from other festivals, while also discussing the importance of promoting female directors and the challenges faced by filmmakers in Southeast Asia, including Sri Lanka. Giona’s insights offered a unique glimpse into the world of film curation, shedding light on the festival’s vision, its impact on filmmakers, and the potential for future collaborations.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: The Locarno Film Festival has selected a diverse range of films from various genres and styles. Could you discuss the process behind curating this diverse lineup and how it reflects the global nature of cinema?

A: Well, the process is quite interesting. We want our festival to stand out and offer something unique that you won’t find elsewhere. This sounds very plain and obvious. But the thing is, in order for our festival to survive, it needs to be portrayed and that would eventually not be found elsewhere. This is the first abstract thought because nowadays, with the proliferation of film festivals, you can find almost everything, almost everywhere.

So, the challenge is, how do we put together this kind of films? And we create a curated space where different voices can create the tapestry. So, it goes from looking into formally challenging and narratively engaging film and put them together by opposition and not by similarities.

Well, we receive a great deal of films in every year, and I work with a talented team who bring to the table a wide array of interesting films. This year’s program could have had at least seven to ten titles added for each section for each competitive section.

Ultimately, we make a choice because we want to diversify the approach.

Locarno has different audiences. But our goal as a group, and mine as an artistic director, was to bring together these different audiences. There is the audience of the Piazza that doesn’t miss out on any primetime film. There is the audience of the Retrospective that basically comes only for that because they can watch three, four, five films a day. Or the audience of the competitions. So, my goal was them to be intrigued by what’s happening in other parts of the festival. So, it’s all about mixing things up and making the festival a vibrant and diverse experience for everyone.

Q: It’s notable that there are many films directed by female film directors selected for the main sections. Nowadays this is much visible in festivals worldwide. Could you share your thoughts on the importance of promoting gender diversity in filmmaking and how these female directors contribute to the festival’s vision?

A: Well, I truly do believe that we need more diversity. And but I do not select female directors because they’re female. I select them because through the collective process, we think that this make a difference. As you said, it’s true that some of the more challenging works so far have been made by female directors. The films that we put last year on the map were mostly female directed.

And they were also the films that won. It was a great success to have the films of Valentina Maurel, such as Electric Dreams, Rule 34, and The Sirens. We’re enjoying this great deal of success. And for us, it’s really not a mere, we have almost 50-50, but it’s more what we can do for the films that we select.

And that the fact that the female directed films have been among the most successful of the festival and the most successful films after the festival, this is a reason to cherish the results.

Q: How does LFF support the creative vision and impact of filmmakers in Southeast Asia, while ensuring the creative independence of artists, particularly when it comes to underrepresented region like Sri Lanka?

A: Well, as you know, we have a program that’s been with the festival for many years now. And Southeast Asia has been one of our core interests for many years. Not only Open Doors that, filmmakers from Southeast Asia have been championed, supported and presented all the time. For us, it’s not been, this kind of support has not been a kind of seasonal trend. This is what makes us what we are.

So, our attention to the area has been portrayed, you can check it out, but I don’t want to go at length into that, because we also work with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. And we have always supported projects from the area. And that is what we do, basically.

Q: Reflecting on Locarno’s Open Doors program from a few years ago, which centered on Southeast Asia and included the participation of filmmakers from Sri Lanka, do you believe that as a country, we effectively capitalised on the opportunities offered by this initiative? Looking back, it seems that there might have been challenges in fully harnessing the benefits, potentially due to factors such as limited knowledge in co-production, restricted access to information, and various socio-cultural constraints. In light of this, what prospects and opportunities could Sri Lanka as a nation anticipate from future engagements with the Locarno Film Festival?

A: As Locarno Open Doors, we are quite aware that you can’t do the work only during the moments of the festival. This is why we have set in place instruments such as the toolbox, the tutoring sessions. And we’re working with different professionals from the industry also outside the context of Locarno and Open Doors. The main goal behind such initiatives is that countries where cinema, unfortunately, is not necessarily a priority, can only develop their creativity by stepping outside the mandates of the commercial reasons of the national production and engage either in a discussion with the present, the history and the contradictions of the national situation.

But this is one does not exclude the other, or engage in the creation of network that allows you to be inside the frame of your country, at the same time, outside in terms of production strategies and creative conversation. I know this sounds somehow abstract, but basically today, if author cinema wants to survive, it needs to be rooted deeply in a national territory. I mean, not in a nationalistic sense, but in a rather political one.

And at the same time, try to attract and create a conversation with creative identities outside the boundaries of the national context, because this needs to be understood that can only be an interesting cinema, if we have news from countries where we don’t usually hear about, but at the same time, they are not self-referential.

It’s basically, when you watch the films from Italian neo-realism, you understand that these films could only be made in Italy at a certain moment, but those films inspired filmmakers around the world to tell their own stories. So, I think the real difficulty here is to find support for your own ideas. And at the same time thinking outside the box, without compromising your ideas to gain easier access to production opportunities. And this is why sometimes it is important to look also outside the frame of the national production.

To facilitate this contact, open doors and also create framework where filmmakers can reach out to colleagues, to professionals, to outside expertise. And the toolbox, for instance, is something extremely important. For instance, before we had the Southeast Asia program with open doors, there were many talented persons who did not know how to get access to European funds or projects and so on. And now same people who did not know about it are the ones that are tutoring. People in their country explain how to do that. I mean, this is quite progress.

Q: Are there any plans for your Open Doors team to visit Sri Lanka again in the future?

A: In the immediate future, we are making different plans, but that does not mean that Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia is off the maps of Locarno. Also this year, we had films from Southeast Asia in both competitions.

Q: In the context of Euro-centric international film festivals, Southeast Asian cinema, including Sri Lankan cinema, has often been predominantly approached from an anthropological perspective. This perspective tends to prioritise exploring issues, community dynamics, and identity politics, rather than emphasising character-driven narratives that delve into the depths of human subjectivity. Regrettably, this limitation of Southeast Asian cinema is not only prevalent among festival circles but also influences the artistic choices made by filmmakers in the region. How do you explain this prevailing anthropological perception and the tendency of filmmakers to conform to these limitations?

A: It’s a very complex issue that you are addressing here. I think it has strictly to do with production opportunities, because filmmakers think that if they participate actively in a conversation, more people will be paying attention production-wise, and there will be more access to financial opportunities. This is something that is true, because it’s true for different countries. But since gaining access to production is extremely difficult and complex, sometimes you try to make your voice heard, because it is crucial for you being heard and to work. So, I don’t think this is a limitation per se. It is rather a problem of our Eurocentric position, where we do not pay attention if we don’t recognise patterns of our own discourse.

So, I wouldn’t say this is something that is to play with the filmmakers or the projects or the artists, rather than even unconscious bias to put these conversations and complexities. As the artistic director of the festival, we are very much aware of this factor and as a result of this consciousness for this matter, one of our greatest success last year was Stone Turtle. This year, Dreaming and Dying has been a great success. And even on a completely different level, an action movie from the Philippines, such as Topakk by Richard Somes, has enjoyed a great deal of success. So, I think it’s really down to the curators to try to make a difference.

Pix copyright: Locarno Film Festival / Ti-Press


76 Locarno Film Festival-an overview

The 76th Locarno Film Festival had unveiled on August 2, its Concorso internazionale as a mosaic of cinematic elements, painting a comprehensive picture of the world through its films. Each film contributed to a larger conversation, offering both a macroscopic view of the world and intimate dialogues to be explored and invented. Recognising the challenges of recent times, the festival sought to infuse a sense of possibility and imagination through cinema – a medium capable of translating ideas into vivid images. In the face of a complex historical moment, the festival navigated diverse directions to capture a vibrant and exciting present.

From Quentin Dupieux’s edgy surrealism to Lav Diaz’s profound narratives, the festival embraced filmmakers with unique voices. The lineup spanned from the sarcastic humor of Radu Jude to the nocturnal poetry of Sylvain George, from the inventive creations of Rainer Sarnert to the abstract psychedelia of Eduardo Williams. This diverse selection encompassed everything from bittersweet comedies by Bob Byington to the revelation of Italian talent Simone Bozzelli. It also introduced debut works, like that of Leonor Teles and the dreams of Ena Sendijarević. The festival’s panorama extended from the enigmatic Teheran of Ali Ahmadzadeh to the sun-soaked tourist resorts of Sofia Exarchou, capturing a wide spectrum of human experiences.

A prominent theme emerged in the festival’s dedication to amplifying new voices, including those of emerging women filmmakers. Laura Ferrés and Maryna Vroda were among those who contributed fresh perspectives. The festival celebrated Swiss cinema through Basil Da Cunha, a prominent figure in the renewal of the country’s cinematic landscape. The festival’s selection, representing the multifaceted expressions of the world, mirrored the boundless potential of cinema itself. The Concorso Cineasti del presente, focusing on the future of cinema, was equally vibrant. The program encompassed a rich spectrum of genres, from wild erotic comedies to surreal reflections on life and death, disturbing musings on desire and power, lunar thrillers, and coming-of-age narratives. Each film offered a distinct perspective on the possibilities of storytelling.

The Piazza Grande, the heart of the festival, witnessed an array of cinematic gems. Classic revivals such as Daniel Schmid’s “La Paloma” and Federico Fellini’s “La città delle donne” shared the spotlight with contemporary works such as “Falling Stars” by Richard Karpala and Gabriel Bienczycki. The Piazza welcomed acclaimed directors like Sandra Hüller, Ken Loach, and Frédéric Mermoud, alongside captivating productions such as “Shayda,” executive produced by Cate Blanchett. Notably, the Fuori concorso section paid homage to cinema masters, featuring works by Paul Vecchiali, Barbet Schroeder, Franco Maresco, and Denis Coté.

The diverse and captivating lineup showcased the power of cinema to bridge gaps, foster conversations, and offer a glimpse into the world’s myriad stories. With the festival’s closing ceremony on the horizon, attendees and filmmakers alike were left with a sense of anticipation, eagerly awaiting the next edition of this cinematic celebration in the picturesque town of Locarno.