New Locarno Chief Talks Working With Streamers & Studios, Being A Marvel Fan, 2021 Festival Vision & COVID Planning

Giona A. Nazzaro
Giona A. Nazzaro Locarno Film Festival

Giona A. Nazzaro was today appointed as the new Artistic Director of Switzerland’s historic Locarno Film Festival. He will be tasked with trying to bounce back the event, one of the key European summer film fests, from a pandemic-disrupted year in 2020.

Deadline got on the phone with Nazzaro, who joins from his role at the Venice Film Festival sidebar Critics’ Week, to hear about his plans for Locarno’s 74th edition in August 2021. He says re-opening the iconic Piazza Grande – said to be the largest open-air screening room in the world – will be a top priority after it was closed this year, but notes the team are game-planning for potential further disruption. Nazzaro also tells us about his love for American movies such as The Fast And The Furious franchise, and why he thinks the streaming services are “integral” to the international industry.

DEADLINE: Let me start by saying congratulations on the new gig.

GIONA A. NAZZARO: Thank you!

DEADLINE: How does it feel to take the reins at Locarno during this ongoing pandemic? What’s the outlook for next year’s edition in that context?

A. NAZZARO: It comes with all new challenges. The picture is changing all the time. However, some festivals have shown that you can have a festival in the pandemic, Venice has done it, Locarno also did it in August. It can be done. You can have people in a movie theater and also look after their safety.

Locarno Film Festival
Locarno Film Festival AP

Unless something horribly major comes along, Locarno will be taking place as scheduled (August 4-14). And the Piazza Grande will be open for cinema lovers to gather again. It’s the largest open-air screening room in the world. Let’s say we need to cut down the audience size, we still will be able to host almost 5,000 people, even with sanitary protocols. Our other cinemas can still hold an amazing number of people at half capacity.

Locarno is a small place, it can be safely monitored. The entry points to the Piazza can be monitored with temperature checks. Because it’s a small city, you can track-and-trace people should some worst-case scenario happen.

DEADLINE: You experienced Venice this year first-hand, how did it feel?

A. NAZZARO: People coming to Venice after the horrendous ordeal from the beginning of the year, they had a completely different approach to cinema. They were in awe in front of the screen. There was this heightened attention. People are literally craving to be back in the cinema and to discover films, this is why we need to do all we possibly can to plan to make festivals happen.

You can’t live without culture, without art, books, movies. This is a historic challenge that festivals and filmmakers, producers, every artist needs to face. We need to survive, but we need to survive with what we are – we are people that can only become better if we are exposed to ideas through art and culture. I know it sounds sanctimonious and corny but I deeply believe if we let our guard down now, in terms of what really matters to us as a collective society, this might seal our fate.

DEADLINE: Many of us are hoping that, after a difficult winter, festivals will come back strongly next year, with or without a vaccine. Are you optimistic about how the 2021 edition will look or are you planning for a hybrid festival?

A. NAZZARO: We are aiming to have a festival as we know it. No matter what, we will open Piazza Grande. We will take it from there. At the moment we are working on the call for entries which will be online very soon – this is a shout out to all the filmmakers: We are here, we are open, send us your films.

DEADLINE: Beyond the pandemic, what can we expect from the first ‘Nazzaro’ edition of Locarno?

A. NAZZARO: I don’t really want to reference a group that are despised by the music cognoscenti, but to reference Genesis – I know what I like and I like what I know. Every director has put his own mark on the history of Locarno, I hope to do so as well, but I can only evaluate that once we are at it.

I would love Locarno to be as successful as it has ever been. When I’m looking for a film, I never know exactly what I’m looking for until I find it. That doesn’t mean I’m not aware of upcoming releases. When I found Alaeddine Slim’s The Last Of Us (Venice Critics’ Week 2016), I didn’t find a film, I found a like-minded spirit, a vision that I could agree with. When I saw Anna Eriksson’s (Critics’ Week 2018) I didn’t find a film, I found a person whose ambition I fell in love with. All these people have stayed friends, not just filmmakers. If that sounds conceited and arrogant I’m sorry but that’s how it works.

DEADLINE: Locarno is one of the jewels in the summer festival calendar, happening after Cannes and before Venice, how do you see the fest in terms of its position in the year and relation to those over festivals?

A. NAZZARO: The event exists on three levels: an important international level, an important national level, and just as important a local level. This festival is also a celebration, it transforms a whole city.

DEADLINE: Before the pandemic, one of the narratives dominating festival chatter was how these major events should work with the streaming services like Netflix and Amazon – are you open to programming their films?

A. NAZZARO: The streaming services are an integral part of a constantly changing landscape. It makes no sense to say ‘no’ or ‘yes’. The whole model of business is changing, and the consequences are dramatic. Locarno stands for independent cinema, upcoming filmmakers, auteurs, and so on. I am open to speaking to the streaming services and have no prejudices. Ultimately it comes down to the quality of the films.

DEADLINE: Are you interested in American movies, studio films?

A. NAZZARO: Look, I am a film junkie, don’t get me started. I would really love to have a tighter, stronger ongoing conversation with the Americans. I am a fan of popular cinema. Don’t hate me but I like Michael Bay, the Fast & Furious franchise, I’m a Marvel fan. I remember seeing the first Transformers film with my son and we were amazed. My taste is wide. I don’t think it’s a good attitude to shut out certain films. It would be a huge pleasure and joy to have a conversation with the U.S. studios.

DEADLINE: A lot of films that were ready this year were held for festivals next year because of the pandemic – do you have an idea of some you might like to program and are there going to be an abundance of movies on the circuit in 2021?

A. NAZZARO: I know what I would love to have and I know what’s in the pipeline and on the grapevine, obviously I can’t say.

DEADLINE: How involved will you be in the industry side? Will there be a new head of Locarno Pro appointed soon?

A. NAZZARO: We are currently working on that, and I hope to be as involved as possible.

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