75 Years of the Locarno Film Festival – Bold Visions, Turbulence – and a Stolen Idea – Culture

In the 1930s, there was a certain enthusiasm for film in Locarno. A film studio was established there in 1939, where feature films and documentaries were produced: “Eve” by Francis Borghi or “When the Cuckoo Calls” by Virgilio Gilardoni.

Pioneers from Lugano

In 1944, a group of movie lovers returned to Lugano with enthusiasm from the Venice Film Festival. They founded the Film Gallery in Lugano. They wanted to move from the cinema halls, which were very small, to an open-air cinema in Parco Ciani.

Highlights of the 75th Locarno Film Festival

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  • At the opening on August 3, Brad Pitt, Sandra Bullock, and a few other contract killers knock across the screen in the “Bullet Train” action train.
  • On August 13, we will find out in the documentary film about the most famous Swiss author «All about Martin Sutter. Only the truth.”
  • The extensive retrospective is devoted to German melodramatic master Douglas Circus, who created the Hudson rock classics with films such as All That Heaven Allows and Ominous Angels.
  • The competitions bring to the public the films whose creators (hopefully) will soon be among the new big names in cinema.

The political opposition, however, prefers to spend money on apartment buildings over the “signature” fine of the cinema. The 1946 Lugano Film Festival failed a referendum.

Movies in the hotel garden

Lucerne wanted to host the festival, as did Schaffhausen. But a few hours after the referendum in Lugano, five Locarno figures caught their idea: they created an open-air cinema in the garden of the Grand Hotel Muralto.

early years

It was August 26, 1946: The first edition of the Locarno Film Festival opened with the film “O Sole Mio”.

after a year

The history of the festival began with curiosity – and it kept moving: the festival version of 1951 was canceled. So only now, in 2022, can the 75th edition of the film festival be celebrated.

The 1950s and 1960s were a golden age for European commercial and artistic cinema, especially Italian. Visconti, Fellini, Antonioni, and finally Bertolucci…

But the rise of television and the decline of European art cinema were unstoppable.

Sweaters instead of evening dresses

Tough years followed. Support has been cut. But not only that: in August 1968 the uprising in Czechoslovakia was crushed. The resulting 1968 protest also reached Locarno.

The Sixties: Heyday and Protest

There were no more open-air shows at the Grand Hotel – evening dresses were mandatory. The festival date has been moved to October to attract fewer tourists and more students.

After refusing to judge films from Warsaw Pact member states, the jury resigned. NZZ was pissed off by young T-shirt and sweater-wearing movie friends who wanted to discuss the film industry. There was turmoil, viewership plummeted, and the crisis was perfect.

Europe’s largest screen

The idea to bring the festival to Piazza Grande came in 1970 around architect Livio Faccini. The construction of the big screen has already exceeded the finances of Locarno – it cost an astronomical amount of 200,000 francs.

The 1970s: a plaza and a big screen

In order to ensure the necessary darkness, the power supply was cut off in the entire city center. Bar operators demanded compensation. But the crazy idea of ​​the largest cinema screen in Europe saved the festival.

The heart of the festival

There was room for 2,000 spectators in the garden of the Grand Hotel. In contrast, there were 7,000 people in Piazza Grande, and it quickly became the heart of the festival: not only did it convey the big screen of cinematic pleasure. The overall experience in the arena has become the unique selling point of the Locarno Film Festival – to this day.

By the late 1970s, the festival was too old to die—and too small to live without much help. His soul and “Padre Padroni” were the owner of the print shop Raimondo Rezzonico. Nothing works without this “chief”, who even paid the festival secretary out of his own pocket.

Technically, the festival has seen turbulent times, and once again subsidies have been cancelled.

leopard shape look

Finally, at the beginning of the eighties, David Streiff, president of the Swiss Film Center, was included. Streiff began focusing the festival continually on films by authors and newcomers from around the world.


He presented the appearance of the tiger as a “corporate identity” and had a lasting impact on the festival for ten years, as did his successor, Marco Muller.

Then, after the new turmoil, came the big leap forward with today’s chief Marco Solari. He doubled the number of sponsors, increased the budget, introduced professional management and turned Locarno into a first-class festival. Thus, a resolute declaration of war helped him compete with the greats of the festival world from now on.

Special prices 2022

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As always, the festival brings well-known names to Locarno by awarding it with several special awards:

  • Independent American director Kelly Richart receives “Bardo d’Honor Manor”.
  • American independent horror film and film special producer Jason Bloom (“The Purge”) received the Premio Raimondo Rezzonico Award.
  • Music and electricity pioneer Laurie Anderson (“Language is a virus”) received the “Visoin Ticinomoda Award”.
  • Veteran political director Costa Gavras (“Z”) receives “Pardo alla Carrera Ascona-Locarno”.
  • American star Matt Dillon (“Drugstore Cowboy”, “To Die For”) received the “Lifetime Achievement Award”.

Confused about the technical direction

Top-notch art directors were important here – it’s not easy to keep them when they’re well networked and in demand. Roman Irene Bignardi survived for only four editions from 2000, and her successor Frédéric Maire took over the management of the Cinémathèque Suisse after a similar short span, so that Maire’s successor Olivier Père stopped short after only three editions to become general manager of Arte France Cinéma.

Hence President Marco Solari relied on one of the talents of the Locarno Festival, Carlo Chatrian, who had worked for many years at the festival. But he was so good that the great competition, the Berlinale, kept him away from Germany as a director.

The next guest performance, performed by Frenchwoman Lili Henstein, was the shortest to date in an edition and a half. Massive controversies over the festival’s direction have led to a split amid the coronavirus pandemic. Giona A. Nazzaro is now trying to adapt the festival to the changing requirements after the pandemic. With its first release last year, it managed to do so in a very promising way.

In a competitive global environment, Marco Solari wanted to make the festival “too big to fail”. It sought to be well established in the private sector, in the canton and the federal government.

He achieved this goal with caution, diplomacy and a great deal of political instinct. You always realize that nothing stays the same.

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