Locarno as Meeting Place for Church People

By Hans Hodel, Jury Coordinator of INTERFILM, Bern

„Strong new beginning at the Lago Maggiore” was the headline of one of the main Swiss newspapers. And “The jury decisions confirm Carlo Chatrian’s program”. In fact the first festival edition of Carlo Chatrian, the former film critic and festival collaborator from Italy, who has been elected new director of the film festival Locarno after the sudden demission of Oliver Père at the end of the edition 2012, has been very successful. The fact, that the jury awarded Historia de la meva mort (Story of my Death) by Albert Serra (Spain/France) with the Golden Leopard and E agora? Lembra-me (What now? Remind Me) by Joaquim Pinto (Portugal)  with a Silver Leopard (Special Price of the Jury) was a confirmation that the jury estimated Chatrian’s sensitive selection. While searching for stylistic diversity without borders he is well aware of the difficult position of the festival between Cannes and Venice and only a few weeks before Montréal and Toronto. But Locarno with its Piazza Grande and the biggest screen for public viewing has still its special charm. And again, it made really sense when Otar Iosseliani said, out of flattery or because he was receiving an Honorary Leopard: “Locarno is the only festival that can do honour to the art of cinema”.

Awards of the Ecumenical Jury

The Ecumenical Jury, three members from SIGNIS and three members from INTERFILM with Daria Pezzoli-Olgiati as president, estimated the selection for the official competition as well, whenever they did not like all of the films, of course. But when they awarded Short Term 12 by Destin Cretton (USA), they did it in accordance with the official jury, who awarded Brie Larson from this film as best actress for her role as “Grace”, the main character, “who finds the courage to deal with the troubled past and to look at a future beyond violence”, as the motivation of the Ecumenical Jury says. The film will be distributed by Xenix-Film and profits from the prize money of CHF 20’000 provided by the Reformed Church and Catholic Church of Switzerland committed for the film’s distribution in Switzerland. The film Tableau noir (Blackboard) by the famous Swiss director Yves Yersin, a moving documentary about the closing down of a little school and its teacher in the French speaking part of the Swiss mountains has been awarded by both the official jury and the Ecumenical Jury with a special mention. 

Programme for dialogue between Film and Theology

The two films awarded by the Ecumenical Jury were screened in the first part of the festival and unfortunately were not included in the programme for the 9th class «Film and Theology» taking place during five days in the second week of the festival. These classes are organized annually since 1999 by the office of the Reformed Church from Berne for the advanced training of Swiss pastors, since 2004 alternating with a class at the Nordic Filmdays in Lübeck (Germany). Their aim for about twenty particpants is to talk faith in talking films as a window to the society and the world of today. Meanwhile there is a number of returning participants while others for the first time discover such kind of fraternal meeting as an enriching possibility to reflect their own life situation in context with the stories told in film. It shows how important the dialogue on film might be for pastoral work. The programme of the class included not only films from the official competition, it had in focus also films of the Piazza Grande screenings, of the section «Open Doors» with its focus on the South Caucasus, the most current "Focus on Syria", the Critics’ Week, and for historical studies and pleasure some participants were also interested in the wonderful retrospective of the Hollywood classic George Cukor (1899-1983).

To put films about the current situation in Syria in the programme has been very appreciated by the participants of the class, whenever discussion about the three short films seen (Untold stories, Light Horizon, Zabad) was difficult. Another world reveals the film Ölimàe öied (Flowers from the Mount of Olives) by Heilika Pikkov (Estonia), one of the seven pearls in the critics week. It tells the sensitive and most touching portrayl of the 82 years old Mother Ksenya, an Estonian nun living peacefully meditating in a Russian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem (awarded with the Prize Zonta Club Locarno). 

Award winners from other festivals

Two films of this selection should be mentioned in this report, because they were already awarded by an Ecumenical Jury at other festivals: Gloria by Sebastian Lelio (Chile/Spain) in the programme of the Piazza Grande has been awarded by the Ecumenical Jury with its prize at the Berlinale 2013 for «its refreshing and contagious plea that life is a celebration to which we are all invited, regardless of age or condition, and that its complexities only add to the challenge to live it in full”. The participants could exchange their impressions and thoughts with the Swiss representative of SIGNIS, Charles Martig, member of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlinale, who talked about the disccussions of the Ecumenical Jury and the reasons for awarding this film in the context of the official competition.

Gaigimet (Keep Smiling) by Rusudan Chkonia  (Georgia/France/Luxembourg) has been awarded three weeks before by the Ecumenical Jury in Yerevan and found a warm reception by the audience in the Open Doors screening in Locarno. «This film is an artful and profound critique of the rising popularity of reality television programming and highlights the humiliation and loss of human dignity that often casts a dark shadow upon the participants in these programs» describes the jury the storyline of the film and continues: «The audience journeys through a wide range of human emotions as we engage with these ten mothers as they compete for the top prize in this beauty contest for Georgian mothers. Shame and greed join envy and lust in illustrating that there are sometimes tragic consequences to pay for pursuing artificial human validation and for taking advantage of the disadvantaged for purposes of entertainment.”

Social events

The festival is a place of lot of official meetings and gatherings at lunchtime for all kind of interest. Speaking about the festival as meeting place for Church people interested on film it should be noted that at the first Sunday of the festival, an ecumenical service is organized and celebrated by the Ecumenical Working Group of the local Christian Churches in the Church S.Maria Assunta (“Chiesa Nuova”) with the participation of local believers, festival visitors, authorities of the festival and of course the members of the Ecumenical Jury, followed by a reception in the cloister of the Church. And finally the organizers of the Ecumenical Jury, thanks to a generous sponsor, were offering a reception for dinner, gathering more than hundred guests including all kind of representatives from film, culture and Churches, friendly welcomed by Marco Solari, president of the festival, and Gottfried Locher, president of the Protestant Swiss Church Federation, proposing also a presentation of the jury members.