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Critical Consensus: The Locarno Critics Academy Breaks Down the 2012 Festival

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire August 16, 2012 at 10:19AM

Critical Consensus is a biweekly column in which critics discuss new releases or events in the film world. In this special edition, Indiewire critic Eric Kohn moderates a discussion with the eight participants in the 2012 Locarno Critics Academy, a workshop for college-age film critics that took place over the past two weeks during the Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. The participants in the following discussion are Michael Nordine (USA), Ari Gunnar Thorsteinsson (Iceland/Sweden), Adam Cook (Canada), Giovanni Vimercati aka Celluloid Liberation Front (Italy), Beatrice Behn (Germany), Claudia Piwecki (Italy), Marc Menichini (Italy) and Zeba Blay. Links to the work they published during the festival can be found throughout the conversation; an organized list of their writing can be found here.
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These are all movies that will receive more attention at film festivals than anywhere else. Mike, you wrote a lot about the festival environment, from the choice of the opening-night film to the bizarre thing that people chant from the back of the room at press screenings. Having now covered a festival for an intense two-week period, how do you feel about festival coverage in general?

NORDINE: I kind of don't trust it. It can be really extreme sometimes, like when "The Tree of Life" premiered at Cannes last year and the story was that people booed it. It's a select group of people who don't always reflect how a film will perform beyond the festival. We were talking about "Ape," which won a special mention from one Locarno jury and an emerging directing prize from another. I was going along with that movie for certain moments but for the most part I just thought it was bad.

"Ape."
"Ape."

BEHN: It was really bad. I do not understand that decision. If you give a prize like that, you have to really believe in your decision. There was hardly anyone watching this film. Some people left, a lot were asleep. I would have walked out if I hadn't been writing a piece about it.

NORDINE: I think it's great that festivals can put films like this on people's radars. It's awesome that something like "Leviathan" is one of the most talked-about films here. But it still raises the question of not believing everything you hear from festivals.

Zeba, you wrote about a number of films here that had already played in theaters elsewhere, like "Ruby Sparks" and "Bachelorette." Did the festival provide a different sort of context for them?

ZEBA BLAY: When you're working in this environment, you become very aware of the fact that a lot of people are writing about the same thing. I reviewed "Ruby Sparks" and "Bachelorette," so when I wrote about them together, it was a lot more satisfying to look at them in a different way. Those two movies, as well as "Magic Mike," were very interesting choices for Locarno's Piazza Grande section. I was surprised to see them there and was trying to figure out what made these films relevant for people who haven't seen them yet.

THORSTEINSSON: "Ruby Sparks" definitely didn't seem like something I would have been interested in. But it played the same night as "Magic Mike" and both dealt with fantastical representations of the sexes. I was really interested in seeing how it would play with the audience. The Piazza is an outdoor section of the festival that seats 8,000 people. In another context, I would have thought "Ruby Sparks" was dumb and innocuous, but with all those people, it made me look at it a different way.

Along similar lines, the festival provides a new context for older films. Adam, since you wrote about the new "History of Cinema" section at Locarno, how do you think that addition impacted the festival?

COOK: I think one of the most important things a festival can do is not only show what's new but bring attention to films we've forgotten or that are underappreciated and allow them to share the same stage as these other films people are talking about. The Otto Preminger retrospective is really important; a lot of the films they showed aren't available commercially. It's not just the films but how they're shown. Last night, seeing "Bonjour Tristesse" on the Piazza with that crowd was a really special experience.

Giovanni -- or, if you prefer, Celluoid Liberation Front -- you wrote about the films of Marco Ferreri that were screened at the festival. How did Locarno's presentation of this filmmaker affect your relationship with his work?

CLF: First of all, this was the first time I watched these films on the big screen, which was a privilege since his films aren't shown very much. They only showed three films by him, but I took the opportunity to shed light on a filmmaker who unfortunately isn't very well known. It's amazing how Ferreri's work is more relevant today than it was 30 years ago.

COOK: Do you think he's as important a filmmaker as other Italian filmmakers whose names we hear again and again?

CLF: Yes, and much better than people like Bertolucci, if not Fellini. They tend to say that all filmmakers were ahead of their times, but I think Ferreri really was, in some way, ahead of his time. If you watch his films today, you can definitely see that.

"Sightseers."
Cannes Film Festival "Sightseers."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the festival can also present filmmakers at early stages of their careers in a new light. Beatrice, you wrote about Ben Wheatley. He's only three films deep but all of them screened at Locarno -- including his latest, "Sightseers." Why do you think he has attracted so much acclaim this early in his career?

BEHN: In the beginning, I was surprised he had only done three feature films. He does a lot of TV stuff and viral videos, but it's so lowbrow that we shouldn't talk about it. Then he gets into the "History of Cinema" section alongside Leos Carax. Watching Wheatley's films, it stood out to me that he makes genre films, which are usually not that well represented at festivals. He really is an auteur. I don't know where he's going to go in the next couple of years, but he does have the potential of becoming our generation's Kubrick.

THORSTEINSSON: Whoa! That's a bold statement.

BEHN: It is -- but wait. I said he has the potential. Whether he uses it, we shall see. A lot of people have potential and then just fail and die. Maybe he will, too. But it's more than three funny little genre films.

THORSTEINSSON: (laughs) I'm waiting for the headline: "Ben Wheatley fails and dies."

BEHN: But I enjoyed seeing his films in a row. I do find myself in a position where I'm an ambassador for his films here.

THORSTEINSSON: One of the critics who visited our workshop talked about advocacy as a big part of the job...

CLF: …especially at a festival like Locarno, where a lot of the films won't get a commercial release.

Next: What role do Swiss films play at this Swiss film festival?
 

This article is related to: Locarno International Film Festival, Critical Consensus, The Girl From Nowhere, Leviathan, Ben Wheatley, Sightseers, Locarno Critics Academy, Image Problem





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