One of the pleasures of Locarno is seeing films in the open air in the town’s main square, the Piazza Grande. During the day, this lovely square is a packed meeting place for the town’s 15,000 residents, as well as the thousands of international film buffs who descend every August.
The screen here is huge – and when I say huge, I mean huge. It is one of the largest open air screens in the world, measuring 26 by 14 meters. It is almost the size of a tennis court – or, at least, it seems that way. The projection is state-of-the-art with amazing clarity, even at this size. In my 40 years of attending film festivals, I have seen open air films in all kinds of places from Montreal to Zanzibar, but I have seen nothing that matches the festive air of Locarno’s venue.
In other cities, the audience sits on blankets or on grass with their picnic baskets. In Locarno, over 8000 comfortable chairs are provided in yellow and black, the colors of the festival’s leopard emblem. You can also sip beer or order pizzas from the numerous bars and restaurants which surround the square while the action continues onscreen.
Locarno shows hundreds of films in the course of ten days, ranging from mainstream Hollywood features with big stars to avant-garde films which are so avant-garde that they baffle you even more when your learned colleagues try to explain them to you afterwards. When that happens, I would advise you to head to the Piazza Grande for more accessible films! When the Indian film Lagaan screened here in 2001, the audience was so taken by the film’s music that they began dancing in the aisles.
The films selected for screening in the Piazza Grande tend to be the crowd-pleasing kind. In addition to the official jury, the public is on jury duty; the audience votes for the Prix du Public. Winners have included Bend it Like Beckham (2002), The Lives of Others (2006), Monsieur Lazar (2012), and this year, The People vs Fritz Bauer.
Opening night was a world premiere of Jonathan Demme’s Ricki and the Flash, starring Meryl Streep as a woman who has chosen to pursue her dream of becoming a rock star, but returns home for reconciliation with her family. Other films included Bombay Velvet (India), Heliopolis (Brazil), Floride (France), Southpaw (USA), and The Deer Hunter (1978) – the latter a tribute to Michael Cimino, who was given a lifetime achievement award.
Piazza Grande is the perfect place to see romantic comedies as well as thrillers. The stars and the summer skies provide the right atmosphere.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2015