Among the world’s oldest international film events, the Film Festival Locarno kicks off its 66th edition tonight, running through Saturday, August 17, with a lineup of over 100 features, of which more than forty are documentaries. The Swiss fest, situated just weeks before Venice, Telluride, and Toronto, often showcases an adventurous program, balancing the expected star-driven fare with more challenging discoveries that might normally be relegated to the sidelines at other festivals its size. Its non-fiction offerings appear in virtually every section, from the fest’s signature Piazza Grande massive open-air screenings to its own version of the independently curated Semaine de la critique. The following highlights docs, section-by-section, that have caught my eye:
While the vast majority of the Piazza Grande open-air screenings will offer fictional entertainment for the up to 8000 attendees of each program, there are two documentaries included: Pascal Pisson’s ON THE WAY TO SCHOOL (SUR LE CHEMIN DE L’ECOLE) (pictured), which follows four children around the world in their quest for education; and, decidedly of more local interest, Jean-Stéphane Bron’s L’EXPERIENCE BLOCHER, about the leader of the Swiss People’s Party.
Locarno features several competitions, with films vying for the event’s signature Leopard awards. In the running for the biggest prize, the Golden Leopard, are the twenty selections of the Concorso internazionale, including docs such as Joaquim Pinto’s WHAT NOW? REMIND ME (E AGORA? LEMBRA-ME), following the filmmaker as he goes through clinical trials for experimental treatments for HIV and hepatitis C; Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi’s PAYS BARBARE (pictured), an experimental, archival study of colonial Ethiopia; and Yves Yersin’s BLACKBOARD (TABLEAU NOIR), a year in the life of a small mountain village school.
First and second features compete in the sixteen-strong Concorso Cineasti del presente, with nonfiction entries including: Lois Patiño’s COAST OF DEATH (COSTA DA MORTE), a study of a Spanish region historically known for its propensity for shipwrecks; Blaise Harrison’s HARMONY (L’HARMONIE), an observational portrait of a small community, focused on music and silence; and Pacho Velez and Stephanie Spray’s MANAKAMANA (pictured), following pilgrims on a cable car journey to a Nepalese temple.
Screening in Fuori concorso (out of competition) are several docs, among them: Claire Simon’s HUMAN GEOGRAPHY (GÉOGRAPHIE HUMAINE), which explores Paris’ Gare du Nord as a nexus for globalization; David Induni’s HERITAGE (pictured), offering an analysis of Switzerland’s relationship to firearms; and Penelope Bortoluzzi’s THE PASSION OF ERTO (LA PASSIONE DI ERTO), a look at the annual Passion Play staged by a tiny Italian Alpine village. Also screening here are several films in a special focus on Syria, including Hisham al-Zouki’s UNTOLD STORIES, spotlighting the role of women in the Arab Spring through the camera of a young activist; and Nidal Hassan and Lilibeth Rasmussen’s TRUE STORIES OF LOVE, LIFE, DEATH AND SOMETIMES REVOLUTION (HEKAYAT AN ELHOB WALHAYAT WALMAWT), about the filmmakers’ experience of the Syrian uprising.
All seven of the selections of the independently curated Semaine de la critique are documentaries. Especially catching my eye are: René Harder’s DIE HÜTER DER TUNDRA (pictured), a portrait of a Russian Tundra village and its imperiled reindeer sleigh race; Andreas Horvath’s EARTH’S GOLDEN PLAYGROUND, a look at the draw of the Yukon’s Klondike gold fields in the current economic climate; Marc Bauder’s MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE, providing insight on the economy through an indepth interview with one of Germany’s former leading investment bankers; and Heilika Pikkov’s FLOWERS FROM THE MOUNT OF OLIVES (ÕLIMÄE ÕIED), the final interview with an octogenarian nun about to take her final vow of complete silence.
Also independently curated, Appellations Suisse offers Locarno audiences recent homegrown films, as selected by promotional agency Swiss Films. The most intriguing of the seven docs are: Dieter Fahrer’s THORBERG (pictured), a look at several inmates at the titular prison; Gaël Métroz’s SÂDHU, following a Hindu holy man as he wrestles with his calling during a long pilgrimage; Mano Khalil’s DER IMKER, about a beekeeper who suffered catastrophic losses in the Turkish-Kurdish conflict; and Floriane Devigne and Frédéric Florey’s THE LAUNDRY ROOM (LA CLÉ DE LA CHAMBRE Á LESSIVE), a close look at a communal laundry room in a public housing project.
Additional documentaries appear in Open Doors, a series of films from the South Caucasus; Histoire(s) du cinéma, retrospective and new films about film; Film delle giurie, films by or featuring festival jury members; and Premi speciali, films related to special honorees at Locarno this year.