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Being a Provocateur Without Being a Bad Guy: Locarno Artistic Director Olivier Pére

Being a Provocateur Without Being a Bad Guy: Locarno Artistic Director Olivier Pére

Last year, Paris-based festival programmer Olivier Pére made the dramatic transition from head of Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes to Artistic Director of the Locarno Film Festival. Now he looks a little more comfortable in his role, wearing the same blindingly white suit (he owns several versions, he claims) each night when he introduces outdoor films on the festival’s Piazza Grande in front of 8,500 people.

When not also introducing smaller films in the festival’s two competition sections, Pére has any number of other things to do. On most late nights during the festival, you can find him at the makeshift beachside party tent hosted by the Parisian club Lido, holding court with dozens of filmmakers and other guests. Pére has many resources and, as a longtime critic, plenty of cinephile passion to spare, but one thing he lacks is a lot of spare time. Nevertheless, Locarno’s most familiar face found time to sit down with indieWIRE Wednesday for a discussion about his progress at the festival, which wraps its 64th edition this weekend.

Looking back on your first round as artistic director of Locarno last year, do you think you made some drastic changes to the festival?

Yes, for me it was great, but of course it was the first experience, so we knew what we wanted to change and we did it: The catalog, the idea for the films to be more eclectic. We had a vision of being a more exciting European festival, as I told you last year. We wanted to bring back the best filmmakers and discover some new filmmakers. It was okay, everybody enjoyed it, but I have to confess that I’m much more satisfied with this year.

I think the good and bad parts of last year were about my work, but also about the festival and the expectations for it. I studied more about the programming, the selection. With the Piazza, you have to feed the audience expectations. I took more advice. We fixed some things. I’m really proud of the results. I think what we tried to harvest last year we’ve had success with this year. Last year, we tried to get in touch with some American studios as well as some talented actors and filmmakers. Sometimes it takes several years before they are available.

You say you surveyed “the good and bad parts” of last year. Can you give me some examples?

In my opinion, it was too focused in one direction — arthouse newcomers. I think that last year, because it was my first year, most of the filmmakers were newcomers making very radical low-budget films. So it was great, but it was not eclectic enough and maybe not as rich as I would have wished. This year, I’m satisfied with the international competition because we tried to discover some very good first features and support some new filmmakers who I consider to be some of the great directors of our time, like Mia Hansen-Love. The balance between marketable filmmakers and first-time filmmakers is more exciting, a balance between expectation and surprise.

The International Federation of Film Producers (FIAPF) ranks Locarno as an “A” festival. In order to maintain that ranking, all the competition films must be either world or international premieres. How do you satisfy that requirement while also paying attention to quality?

It was already an “A” festival, but in my opinion [the program] was too weak. It’s not the fact that it’s a world premiere that makes a film interesting.

Is it upsetting for you to have to turn down films because they don’t have premiere status?

It’s better this way. I think it’s important to be competitive because if Locarno wasn’t an “A” festival, we would not be able to catch the attention of the press or the industry. Nobody would come. It would be a great festival for the audience, maybe, but not the professionals, and we want both. So I like that. It’s a good platform for international premieres, including American features like “The Color Wheel” or “Without.” They may already have attention in the United States, but they’re completely unknown in Europe.

Of course, having Harrison Ford on the Piazza is a totally different story.

That was related to one of my main objective goals when I arrived. The reason last year there were not so many mainstream blockbusters at the festival was not because we didn’t want them but because the films were not available. The schedule wasn’t good. Nothing really fit with the Piazza or our expectations or the desires of the distributor. So that was not successful, but we tried, and we tried again this year.

I got in touch with the major distributors in Los Angeles, London and Zurich. We had a great collaboration with Disney and Universal. We exchanged lists of films we wanted to see. By chance, they were the same. Paramount’s decision to use the Piazza as the platform for the European premiere of “Cowboys and Aliens” means they were okay with bringing Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Jon Favreau here. It’s very good for us and for them as well. If you celebrate stars like Harrison Ford, of course you grab the attention of the media. So the fact that the festival became more famous was very, very good for the competition, for all the young filmmakers who are here. It’s not something against something. It’s something with something.

Your replacement as Artistic Director of Directors’ Fortnight, Frederic Boyer, stepped down this year. How do you feel about what happened?

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to comment on that.

More generally, then: Every festival has its politics. How would you compare Directors’ Fortnight politics with Locarno politics?

I think the idea of the cinema is the same, but the vision is much bigger at Locarno. In Switzerland, you’re working with the whole country. There are a lot of things to consider–not only 20 features but 200 or so. This is a complicated country and you have to introduce yourself. Maybe some people were scared or reluctant about me. Of course, there were people who knew me and knew I wasn’t a bad guy, that I was totally dedicated to cinema, but some people didn’t. After a year of great international success, I know part of the landscape. Now I think it’s okay, people realize I’m not a bad guy, not a provocateur, I just love cinema.

You can be a provocateur without being a bad guy.

Yeah, I don’t like to provoke things myself, but I do like provocative movies.

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