With the Locarno Festival in full swing, it's Chatrian's last season as artistic director before he moves on to the Berlinale. After six years, what does he think about the art of curating a festival?
Locarno Festival started Wednesday night. How was the atmosphere?
As always, the atmosphere is full of energy at the beginning. People look forward to watching the new films and meeting with guests.
The opening film was the French comedy Les Beaux Ésprits paired with a Laurel and Hardy slapstick film from 1929. Is humor this year's main motto?
We try to have more than one thread or topic. But for sure – we call it lightness, because it's not just about humor. It is a lightness that doesn't counteract the will to talk about the world we are living in, with all its conflicts, contrasts and frictions.
One could say the world is in a bad place right now. But for this year's festival you chose many very personal stories. Why is that so?
I think that cinema and films are strong and powerful when they handle something from a very precise point of view. It really has to do with the images. Images always deal with something concrete, something specific. They're not abstract.
From this precise story, images can provide a bigger picture. They give the viewer an image of the world. Maybe that's normal for me, for my generation: What I really like in films is when I can recognize the voice of the filmmaker. Then I can also relate to that voice being different from the filmmaker himself. It's a question of the eye of the subject and the word. That's something I think belongs to every film.
You selected the 14-hour Argentine film La flor for this year's program. Is that a special quality of Locarno: taking difficult cinematic pieces like this and knowing the public will appreciate it?
I'm lucky because in Locarno we have a very curious audience. They're not afraid to watch a long or demanding film. La flor is very long indeed, yet it's also like a very long TV series filled with history and stories. I'm confident that once they start watching it, the audience will want more. So it's not a demanding film per se.
Are digital platforms a good thing for films like these in the sense that people can take their own time to watch in installments?
I think the transition from analogue to digital has completely changed how a film is produced. With today's tools, the notion of time has completely changed. And I think that nowadays people in general - not just moviegoers - have a different relationship to moving images. They can watch a short clip on their mobile or spend a whole night in front of the TV watching a series.
In a way, some of the films we selected this year are our reaction or the consequences of the different relationship we have with moving images. La flor is a film that I think wouldn't have been possible 20 years ago.
Shoa was extremely long – and very successful…
Absolutely. But I think that Shoa and Heimat deal with issues in different ways. Heimat was a film with a very precise rhythm. I love Edgar Reitz. I invited him to Locarno twice. But at the same time, Heimat belongs to the 20th century in the sense that it was a great, incredible new experiment and was very successful not only in Germany, but also in Italy and France. The second Heimat films Leaving Home were like twelve films of two hours each. La flor has episodes of very different length. Some are 20 minutes, one is five hours. The notion of time has completely exploded.
Critics always mention the dualism of avant-garde art film and mainstream movies that you very successfully handled over six years as director of the Locarno Festival. Do you identify with that programmatic approach?
I think that is something very specific to Locarno. It's also related to the location. Here we have this incredible, amazing open air-venue, the Piazza Grande. This is for popular films. And I don't have any problem with mainstream blockbusters. They are part of the cinematic arts, and I enjoy watching them.
At the same time, I've used this great plaza seating thousands of people to introduce other filmmakers or artists that are not well known. To me, that's not a contradiction.
I think that a festival should really mix audiences, because we live in a world where everything is categorized. If you go to streaming platforms, an algorithm will tell you the kind of film you are supposed to watch. The goal of a film festival is the opposite, to show the viewer something he doesn't expect.
Will you carry on with that concept in Berlin?
As I said, the programming line depends on the festival, on the place. Each festival has its own story. I have to understand the structure of Berlin well before I think about what I would like to bring there. Berlin and Locarno are very different. One is in the summertime, the other in the winter, one in a small town where basically the town itself becomes the festival, the other a big city with a very different audience.
At the same time, both festivals are fully professional and made for audiences. In that sense, I think that conveying different kinds of films can make sense, but I think that approach is already in place in Berlin.
Critics often call you "a true cineast," saying that you "burn for cinema" – and that your programs for Locarno prove that you have a lot of courage. Will you need a lot of courage especially in Berlin?
(laughs) It takes courage to run a big festival like Locarno, and of course it will take even more courage to run an even bigger and more prestigious festival like the Berlinale. But a festival is not just the work of one person. It's the work of a team.
It's interesting for you to mention courage, because that's one of this year's topics. We're celebrating the anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. We were talking with people from the United Nations about the courage it took to write that great document. It was a very dark moment in 1948 after World War II and the discovery of the camps.
Nowadays we have a lot of fear of the future, for many reasons. But if we look back at the past, we also see the great history that human kindness underwent from '48 up to now. I think there are more reasons to be positive and also to understand what courage means.
Right now you're busy with the ongoing festival. But how does it feel to know this is your last festival as artistic director in Locarno, that on August 11 you have to say goodbye? Do you have thoughts of summing it up or of "This was my era here"?
I'm lucky at the moment because I have lots to do, so there's not much time to wax nostalgic. I know this is my last edition, but I prefer to leave with a smile and with a lighter tone rather than being nostalgic, because the festival is bigger than the person. The Locarno festival doesn't end with Carlo. It will go on. We are just part of a bigger history.
Interview: Sabine Peschel
Born in Turin in 1971, Carlo Chatrian has been artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival since 2012. The festival's 71st edition started on Wednesday. With twelve sections, three competitions and a total of 25 different prizes, the Locarno Film Festival focuses on diversity. The winner of the Golden Leopard will be announced on Saturday, August 11. This is Carlo Chatrian's final season. Beginning in 2020, he will serve as the artistic director of the Berlin Film Festival, the Berlinale.