Switzerland’s Locarno Festival kicks off 71st edition with an eclectic program featuring 293 films

The 71st edition of the Locarno Festival, Switzerland's major film gala, kicks off today. The Local spoke to the organisers to find out about the program's highlights and how Swiss cinema features.

Switzerland's Locarno Festival kicks off 71st edition with an eclectic program featuring 293 films
The Piazza Grande open air venue at Locarno Festival. File photo: Reto Albertalli/AFP.

If “cinema should make you forget you are sitting in a theatre,” as Polish director Roman Polanski once said, then you should be heading to the shores of Lake Maggiore for Switzerland's most prestigious movie event of the year: Locarno Festival.

With 12 sections, 3 competitions and 25 awards, Locarno Festival is the highlight of the Swiss film calendar. This year's program features a total of 293 films from August 1st to August 8th in the southern Swiss canton of Ticino. 

But it is the open air Piazza Grande venue – “one of the finest open air venues in the world,” according to the festival's website – which hosts 8,000 viewers per night that embodies Polanski's saying.

Audience members in the Piazza Grande get to be part of the largest live audience jury at any cinema event on the planet and vote on the Prix du Public UBS.

Ethan Hawke (Excellence Award 2018), Meg Ryan and Antoine Fuqua are among the guests of honour this year in Locarno. Chinese director Jia Zhang-ke is president of the jury. 

The 2018 Piazza Grande section features films directed by Spike Lee, Ethan Hawke, Jane Campion and Antoine Fuqua, among many others.

Afro-American director Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman is competing in the Piazza Grande section (the award for which is awarded by the public) this year at Locarno. 

The festival's most prestigious prize, The Golden Leopard, is awarded each year to the outstanding film in the International Competition. Other sections highlight future talents (Leopard of Tomorrow), the history of cinema and programs for children. The Signs of Life section “aims to explore film’s frontier territories” while the Lifetime Achievement Award (Harrison Ford and Harvey Keitel are past winners) honours an outstanding career in cinema. There are also retrospectives featuring digitally restored classics. 

The action-packed The Equalizer 2, directed by Antoine Fuqua, stars Denzel Washington and also features in the Piazza Grande section.

“Last year, we had more than 3,000 accredited professional delegates, 1,000 accredited journalists and photographers, and 170,000 total entries by members of the public,” Arturo Ratti, from the festival's press team, told The Local. Similar numbers are expected this year. 

Besides nearly 300 film screenings, the festival also hosts talks, industry-focused events and interactive initiatives for audience members. “There are a lot of parallel events related to the Festival that we call Locarno Experience. Like Locarno Garden la Mobiliare and Locarno Talks,” the festival's Ratti told The Local.

For those who prefer music to cinema, the Locarno Grande La Mobiliare garden events, hosted in the Parco Balli at the heart of Locarno's old town, features live music and DJ sets throughout the festival's eight days. 

Locarno Experience even advises visitors on where to get the best ice cream, which caves to visit in the region, offers tips for walks in the mountains and has practical information on accommodation and getting to and around the city of Locarno. 

The Panorama Suisse section gives a platform to Swiss cinema. “Film lovers from all over the world have the opportunity to discover current Swiss filmmaking in its own dedicated section,” states the festival website.

“Swiss cinema is important for us,” Ratti told The Local. “The international visibility and participation is also important, but we do not overlook our country. As a springboard festival, we have to support the Swiss to develop and evolve.”

Ten Swiss films form the Panorama Suisse program this year. 

“It’s of huge benefit for Swiss cinema to have this event in the neighbourhood and a great chance every year to get in contact with international filmmakers,” Daniel Fuchs, head of PR at Swiss Films, Switzerland's film promotion agency and one of the sponsors of Panorama Suisse, told The Local by email. “Locarno is one of the most important film festivals in the world,” added Fuchs. 

Glaubenberg, by Thomas Imbach, is a Swiss film competing for the main prize in the International Competition section. 

Switzerland produces roughly 200 feature films each year, according to Fuchs, but events like Locarno Festival give local filmmakers the chance to reach out to the world. “For a small country, international co-productions have a very important influence,” says Swiss Films' Fuchs. As of this year, Swiss films will be able to seek co-production deals with Mexico too as part of a new bilateral agreement, adds Fuchs. 

My Beloved Enemy by Swiss-Italian director Denis Rabaglia and The Guest by Duccio Chiarini are two of the highlights presented by Swiss Films at the festival this year. 

Mario, an LGBT drama, features in the Panorama Suisse section. 

Besides screening Swiss films, Locarno Festival also supports Swiss filmmakers to seek international co-productions. Three Swiss films have been selected as part of Locarno Pro, the industry-orientated film market at the festival.

Grassroots initiatives to support the future of Swiss cinema are also in place. The festival is running five academies as part of its program: a Filmmakers Academy, a Critics Academy, an Industry Academy, a Documentary Summer School and the Cinema & Youth initiative. 

Locarno Festival is held at ten venues across the city. Day passes range from 52 to 56 Swiss francs (€45-€48); tickets for the Piazza Grande range from 18 to 37 Swiss francs (€15.5-€32). 'Season tickets' for the whole festival and student discounts are also available. 

READ MORE: Swiss police arrest man in Deadpool costume



French films with English subtitles to watch in November

As days get shorter and temperatures drop, November is a great month to enjoy a warm and comforting moment at the cinema. Here’s a round up of the French movies with English subtitles to see in Paris this month.

Cinema in France
Photo: Loic Venance/AFP

The cinema group Lost in Frenchlation runs regular screenings of French films in the capital, with English subtitles to help non-native speakers follow the action. The club kicks off every screening with drinks at the cinema’s bar one hour before the movie, so it’s also a fun way to meet people if you’re new to Paris.

These are the events they have coming up in November.

Friday, November 5th

Boîte Noire – What happened on board the Dubai-Paris flight before it crashed in the Alps? In this thriller Matthieu, a young and talented black box analyst played by Pierre Niney (star of Yves Saint-Laurent among other movies) is determined to solve the reason behind this deadly crash, no matter the costs. 

The screening will take place at the Club de l’étoile cinema at 8pm. But you can arrive early for drinks at the bar from 7pm. 

Tickets are €10 full price, €8 for students and all other concessions, and can be reserved here.

Sunday, November 14th

Tralala – In the mood for music? This new delightful French musical brings you into the life of Tralala (played by Mathieu Amalric), a 48 years old, homeless and worn-out street singer, who one day gets mistaken for someone else. Tralala sees an opportunity to get a better life by taking on a new personality. He now has a brother, nephews, ex-girlfriends, and maybe even a daughter. But where is the lie? Where is the truth? And who is he, deep down?

The night will start with drinks from 6pm followed by the screening at 7pm at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema. There is also a two-hour cinema-themed walk where you’ll be taken on a “musicals movie tour” in the heart of Paris, which begins at 4pm.

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here. Tickets for the walking tour cost €20 and must be reserved online here.

Thursday, November 18th

Illusions Perdues – Based on the great novel series by Honoré de Balzac between 1837 and 1843, this historical drama captures the writer Lucien’s life and dilemmas who dreams about a great career of writing and moves to the city to get a job at a newspaper. As a young poet entering the field of journalism, he is constantly challenged by his desire to write dramatic and eye-catching stories for the press. But are they all true?

The evening will kick off with drinks at L’Entrepôt cinema bar at 7pm, followed by the movie screening at 8pm. Tickets are available online here, and cost €8.50 full price; €7 for students and all other concessions.

Sunday, November 21st

Eiffel – Having just finished working on the Statue of Liberty, Gustave Eiffel (played by Romain Duris) is tasked with creating a spectacular monument for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. It’s ultimately his love story with Adrienne Bourgès (Emma Mackey) that will inspire him to come up with the idea for the Eiffel Tower.

After a first screening last month, Lost in Frenchlation is organising a new one at the Luminor Hôtel de Ville cinema, with pre-screening drinks at the cinema bar. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here

Thursday, November 25th

Les Héroïques – Michel is a former junkie and overgrown child who only dreams of motorbikes and of hanging out with his 17-year-old son Léo and his friends. But at 50 years old, he now has to handle the baby he just had with his ex, and try not to make the same mistakes he has done in the past. 

The film will be followed by a Q&A with the director Maxime Roy who will discuss his very first feature. 

Tickets cost €10, or €8 for students and concessions, and can be found here.

Full details of Lost in Frenchlation’s events can be found on their website or Facebook page. In France, a health pass is required in order to go to the cinema.