• Hooman Razavi

Locarno73 & Locarno2020 – A Conversation With Lili Hinstin, The Artistic Director Of Locarno

By: Hooman Razavi

The Locarno Film Festival (LFF) was going to go ahead with Locarno73 highlighting its heritage and screenings this August. However, the advent of COVID-19 outbreak changed the entire festival planning, and the alternative Locarno2020 (August 5-15) substituted with new programs and focus. In order to understand better the changes, the decision-making process and knowing the nuances of the transition, Universal Cinema (UC) had the opportunity to interview Lili Hinstin, the artistic director of the festival. She commented on various aspects including festival new plans, economic dimension, effect on the film industry in general, collaboration with other industry partners and more philosophical effect of the dramatic changes on her and general viewership.


Hooman Razavi, UniversalCinema Magazine (UM): I will start with asking you to introduce yourself and tell us when you started to work as the artistic director of Locarno Film Festival.


Lili Hinstin (LH): I was appointed in August 2018. Before, I was running another festival in France called Entrevues Belfort. During all those years, when I used to program Entrevues, I attended Locarno as a programmer and industry consultant for some programs like Open Doors. I finished my last edition of Belfort in the fall of 2018 and then started to prepare my first edition of Locarno since January, let us say, January 2019. I built a new artistic team, quite young. We started working and we had our first edition and experience of the festival from that point of view last August.

UM: As you know, like Corona outbreak is the word of the era and everybody is impacted. I want to ask, from your point of view, what has been, or what will be the short-term and long-term impact of this outbreak on your festival, on Locarno and generally on Swiss film industry, based on your observation and involvement in the past few months?


LH: Well, of course, that is extremely hard to answer. I myself was looking for as some economical studies, like theory, in depth studies of the economy of the film industry. I am trying to find some. As far as I am concerned, I would say that the festivals will not be, I guess, the most harmed stakeholders by the corona crisis. I think it is going to be very, very tough for production companies, of course, filmmakers, sales agents, distributors, and exhibitors. That is a lot of persons, a lot of jobs. I mean, for sure there is going to be– for a few years maybe– different timing than the one we are used to concerning the release of the films. There will be, definitively, I guess, slow down because fewer films will be produced in 2021 and 2022.


Now, one of the important questions would be, will this crisis impact a lot of public financing? Because for– I think for example, the French system of public financing for movies because it is– well, because I am French, first of all, and I know it well. Also, because it is extremely structured and I think it is kind of an interesting model because it is basically special tax from every movie ticket that has been sold. Each ticket does have one point seven percent that goes to the public institute that redistributes the money, but only to French production. That is also a very protective and nationalist system.


If we are seeing that the entire movie theatres will be closed for months and that will, of course, have an extremely weakened income. What will be of this huge financial effect of the public funding from production and not only production, by the away. This institute is also supporting other activities. This is, I think, a very important question. Also, I speak of France; because I am able to do it in the details, but that is, I guess will be a question for each country.

As far as for the private funding, I guess, we will have a major role to play in the coming years because of that. That means also that the people who are deciding are not objective experts. There are other ways of choosing and supporting artist in cinema.


For the festivals, it depends very much on the model that they relied on financially. It depends. For Locarno, I would say we are quite well protected. It is a small country. It is a big festival in the country. It has 50-50 private and public financing. The balance looks not too bad for us. I think we can come to the conclusion that all festivals will make more and more use of the digital tools that they were forced to develop in this peculiar year and situation.


I am not saying about screening the films. That will remain, I guess, a very, very open question. I hope not easily solved question but in terms of sharing master classics or conversations or all that kind of self-produced content that the festival usually share with the people attending. That I think will enhance this possibility to propose it for a wider digital audience. That is what I understood from my colleagues who already went online and were very satisfied with the numbers.

UM: You decided actually as a festival to postpone Locarno73 and offered the alternative which is Locarno 2020. I want to ask about the programming because I was looking at some of the new initiatives, for example, The film after tomorrow. Can you discuss a little bit about the conversations that you had with other festival stakeholders in terms of how to reprogram? Was it easy or you faced some challenges? How did you come up with alternatives?


LH: Well, that was not easy because we really decided to propose something totally different that we have never done before and maybe never will. In that sense, it is never easy to come up with new ideas which helped two new organizations. We had to– I mean, it is all new for us. It is a lot of work in the end.


As far as the programming, I mean, programming a film festival is somehow always about solving an equation. Is it correct?


It is solving an equation with maybe four unknowns. You have the public, you have the press, you have the industry, you have the sponsor and you have, of course, the editorial line, and the history of the festival. When I say industry, it is including filmmakers, producers, sales agents, and distributors, and exhibitors, mostly.


For each section, we were used to work on, to ask ourselves where can we continue our mission as an A-list film festival and a big one? Our mission is to serve films. Can we still do that? If not, what can we do? If yes, how can we do that?


We came to different answers for a future in short films. We saw that for feature film as economic ecosystem was really not pertinent, relevant to launch world premiere of radical film in the middle of the months of obvious– first confinement months of August. We decided not to go online with feature films. Also, because we knew that going online would not allow us to present the program of the festival in its usual balance. It is very balanced who also represent the goal and specificity of the festival because it is very wide range way of programming Locarno from experimental radical movies to big films from the studios to other genres. Some films would not agree to that, so we would not be able to propose the selection of the Locarno film festival as it should be.


Well, for the short films, after talking with possible makers, producers of short-film industry, we came to the conclusion that we would be able to propose a selection similar to what we usually do. We were able anyhow to bring something strong and relevant to film makers.


Because of the visibility of the festival, because some of them are very young. It is their first run. They want to make feature films. It is important and good for them to be able to show a selection in the Locarno for some future project. Also, we thought this would be a very interesting combination with those young film makers with their work to reach a very different and new audience on the other side of the world. An audience that maybe is not able to come to Locarno and not necessarily even have access all year long to short films we are showing. This is some work. We made those choices to tell we are not perfect. There are also a lot of comments that there was not any perfect solution for this crazy situation and it is just a position that will bring some good things in a special way. For the feature films, we decided to use part of the money that were dedicated to the various selection of feature and to give it to films or projects that were halted because of the crisis. We decided to try to help a few filmmakers to finish their films when they were sometimes very violently struck by this Corona virus pandemic.

UM: Very interesting. As you were saying, it looks like an equation that you have to solve with so many variables. I want to turn into the short films. So far, because there is no screening of medium and full feature films, in terms of the submissions that you have.


LH: Mediums that are part of the short– because from last year, we extended the submissions for short films until fifty-nine minutes.


UM: Okay, that is their limits. So, in terms of the short film submissions, the ones that you have already received, have you started to screen them or look at them? Are you kind of satisfied with the quality of the films, the short films, or has it been done or not?


LH: Yes. It is mostly the short film committee who is working on all the pre-selection of the short films. I have seen a few of them. Yes. They are right in the middle of the process. Yes, of course, they are beautiful works as always and very valuable, risky, peculiar, and original short proposition.


UM: We Are One: A Global Film Festival is organized by Tribeca and YouTube. I know Locarno is part of it. Can you explain how you decided to join this film festival? What films from the Locarno will be participating in this global film festival?


LH: Yes. Well, we know that all big festivals in the world were called to participate and it was a charity project, right? It was something for mental health victims from the COVID-19. We had to program four hours of content and give it for free, basically, and people could donate from that thing.


I do not know how it will be and look. We will see. For us, it was a bit complicated because we wanted to show Swiss film that has been– Afterall, Locarno selected Toronto as an international premiere. It is a story of a girl who is unable to come out of her house. It was kind of showing actual situation. It is a very young and talented female director, Claudia Reineke, but unfortunately, we had to withdraw it at the last minute for rights matters. That was a pity. The other content we chose to share were two of the most amazing guests we had last year, which were, Bong Joon-Ho, Song Kang-ho, the actor playing the father character in Parasite. Also, an actor who is playing in almost all of Bong's films and in many other Korean films. He is a huge star in South Korea and I really, really love the way he was acting so I offered him the excellence award of Locarno last year for my first edition way before Parasite was even selected to Cannes. They came together and had a very interesting conversation about their work together and also the work between a director and an actor.


Also, our guest of honour last year was John Waters. I do not think it is necessary to explain to anybody who was ever heard of John Waters how diligent, funny, elegant, and politically meaningful he is. That was for us the two things we wanted to share. Those are two conversations that took place in Locarno last summer.


UM: Because of the Corona situation, many film scholars and critics are basically debating about the future of cinema. I want to ask your opinion as an artistic director of Locarno. Do you agree with this binary of virtual cinema versus traditional cinema, and the idea that because of COVID, the film industry is going to change no matter what? There is no return back to traditional cinema. Do you agree with this binary or you think this binary is very premature?


LH: I mean, this binary was already on the track. It was already happening, Corana virus or no Corona virus, so I think this is just fastening the process that was already– I mean, one of the most important questions for the film industry. In my opinion, but again, I am not an economic expert. I do not want to say something. The way I see it, in my opinion, none of them will kill the other. None of them will disappear.


I think, the way I see it, I mean, the way I used to see it before COVID and now, cinema have not really reopened again. I know that March or April in South Korea, when they compared the figures of the tickets sold to Europe at the same period, they had only 10% of income this year.

The cinema reopening, it is going to take time. That is for sure. Now, for example, Switzerland, just yesterday, to open up to three hundred seats in the cinema and putting one person every other person. Unless you are a family but then you have to prove that you are living together, blah, blah, blah. Nobody knows how it is going to be dealt with. My opinion before COVID was that it is all going to be a marketing question in the end. I am sure that media chronology right that is so strong in Europe, the fact that you first have to clear to release film. Then, you have a window for VOD, all this really good structured chronology of the financial windows of film. I think this will kind of blow up and things will slowly become to co-exist. There, it is going to be a marketing matter like in public wise function of which kind of public you are that will try to bring you there, or there, or there. Maybe I am cutting you off.


UM: As the festival director, how would you try to tackle the binary between virtual and real cinema on a more existential level?


LH: Well, as far as I am concerned, as a programmer, it has been years that I refused to see films on the small screen. Every film that I have to see through digital– I do not know, file or link or whatever– I have a video projector and I see it in a big size. I am not used to the small screen. The more I see films, the less I like small screens and the smaller there are, the less I am able to see. Also, small screen is interesting because it also reveals you the literature niche of a lot of audio-visual content, right? For example, I see people in the subway and they are looking at a series. Let us say, I do not know, Netflix, or whatever.


UM:TV series?


LH: Yes, they are not looking at the images. I mean, barely. It is like a radio novel, right? It is all about the sound. It is the literature. It is the script. It is like the voice of the actors and being extremely taken by the story. You just want to follow the story. You want to know what is going to happen but you can go to the toilet, people and go wash their hands, go to their fridge, go take your beer or I do not know. They still follow the story, right? It is really about the script. Of course, what I like also in the series, it is also about the casting and the actors but it is not necessarily that many visual propositions. When movies, you cannot see it.


Some of the films, some of the directors, if you miss like one shot, you just will miss the whole script of the story. You should not miss even one shot. That is very different. Apart from that, I even built an open door screen in my courtyard. Two and a half meters for two and a half meters. I like to call it Piazza Fraternidad, name of my street. I am doing some screenings.


UM: It has been a pleasure to talking to you. I just want to ask if you have any final comments for our audience who are going to sign up for the Locarno film festival in August. Do you have any final thoughts?


LH: I think our job is to introduce and make discovery of some very intimate and original propositions. I do hope that the audience this year will tend to send pleasure to meet them and share them as they usually do.

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