On its 70th edition, the Locarno Festival continues to be among the world’s forefront venues for bold and boundary-pushing independent global cinema. This year I was delighted to be invited by the festival to attend and be a member of the Festival's new Youth Advisory Board (below). With seven other young people from around the world, I’ll be helping the festival connect and engage with young audiences for the next two years. Having never attended a film festival outside of Scotland, I was very excited to explore a massive international festival and see fantastic new films from around the world.
The main event of Locarno, certainly the most iconic image of the festival, is the incredible Piazza Grande. The beautiful main square of the town is transformed yearly into an 8000 seat open air hub of cinema, where the festival’s largest films are shown under the stars each night. Having found that shortly after I arrived Golshifteh Farahani and Irrfan Khan would be introducing their new film The Song of Scorpions there, I dropped my bags and dashed to the square. It did not disappoint. I must admit that I was mostly there for Farahani, having loved her performance in Paterson, but the atmosphere every night holds such unique excitement that it is an experience every film lover must have.
Even more electrifying was the second outdoor screening I went to, the Swiss premiere of Atomic Blonde. The energy was sensational. Whilst my feelings on the film were mixed, I can’t think of a better audience to watch it with, especially the gasps and cheers during every crunchy action sequence.
During the few days I spent in Locarno, I took in a good range of features from across the festival’s varied programmes. From the arthouse big hitters in the Concorso Internazionale to the daring and experimental work to be found in Signs of Life, I was completely blown away by the films I saw.
One which captured my imagination especially was a first feature by director Xu Bing, Dragonfly Eyes (Qing Ting zhi yan). The director noted before the screening that he had long been attempting to form a film solely from CCTV footage but it had taken many years for enough footage to be available. The film was a marvel. Xu has formed, and dubbed, an entire narrative following a twisted, at turns Shakespearean, relationship tragedy.
Beginning as we see a young nun, the titular Qing Ting, quitting the convent, the story twists and turns through a romance beginning in the milking bay of a dairy farm and ending in tragedy. I was impressed by both the ingenuity of the concept and its execution, with the story formed both emotionally compelling and an interesting exploration of our increasingly surveilled lives. I was significantly less keen, however, on interludes involving sickening footage of death and destruction, overused throughout to the point they were fetishized and muted.
Between screenings, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the festival. There was a lot to do outwith the cinema, with talks, masterclasses, Q&As, parties and a lot of great food abundantly available. During the day, the Piazza Grande became a glorious space to meet and discuss the previous day’s films, whilst topping up on the readily available espresso.
Attending the Locarno Festival allowed me to see incredible films from countries I have never experienced on screen before, meet fantastic and passionate people from all around the world and confirm that I want to work in this exciting industry. I look forward to returning next year.