New Locarno Film Festival Chief Giona A. Nazzaro Talks ‘Audience-Friendly’ Vision

New Locarno Film Festival artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro, who is the former head of the Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, is starting to put his stamp on the Swiss fest dedicated to indie cinema with a lineup comprising comedies and genre films alongside more straightforward auteur cinema, driven by a desire to make the selection “more audience friendly,” as he puts it. Nazzaro spoke to Variety about some of the choices that reflect this new course. Excerpts.

Since taking the reins you’ve repeatedly talked about taking the fest in different directions. How is that reflected, now that the lineup is out?

My idea is that a festival can be quite highbrow and entertaining at the same time. That is why in this year’s lineup we have three comedies –– or sort of, it depends on your idea of humor –– we also have some “genre” films, and also some straightforward auteur films. What me and my team tried to do is to create a lineup where no one film looks like the other. At the end of the festival, if someone has checked out all the films in competition at the very least they will come away with an idea of diversity, rather than a sort of “same-sameness.”

You’ve chosen an English-language thriller, Ferdinando Cito Filomarino’s “Beckett,” starring John David Washington, as the opener. That’s got to mean something.

Cito Filomarino is a Locarno success story. The first time I set foot in Locarno he was presenting his first short “Diarchia” in the Lepards of Tomorrow section, produced by Luca Guadagnino and starring Louis Garrel and Alba Rohrwacher. It’s kind of serendipity to have him back in Locarno and opening my first edition as artistic director. “Beckett” is a genre film that harks back to the 1970’s U.S. paranoid thrillers, like Sydney Pollack [“Three Days of the Condor”] and Alan J. Pakula [“Klute”] but it also has a touch of the Dario Argento style. It’s an actual thriller, it’s a political thriller, but it’s also a very human drama about a person trying to figure out their place in the world.

“Beckett” is also a Netflix Original film that will drop globally with no theatrical play. I guess that’s not a problem.

We don’t have a problem with this new landscape, the streamers, the VOD market and so on. And we are actively looking for a conversation and a dialogue with them. It’s ultimately about the quality of the movies. Not about where they come from.

Talk to me about the comedies

In competition we have the classic “The Odd Job Men” by Catalan director Neus Ballús; “The Sacred Spirit,” by Spain’s Chema García Ibarra, which is a very dark deadpan comedy. We have “Cop Secret” by Icelandic director Hannes Þór Halldórsson that is an extremely serious spoof of the “Lethal Weapon” and “Die Hard” action movies, but with a LGBTQI twist. The director is the goalkeeper of Iceland’s national soccer team. Then there is Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash” by the Indonesian indie darling known as Edwin. It’s a Kung Fu film that you wouldn’t expect, with an extremely strong feminist subtext and very funny. It really asks some interesting questions about toxic masculinity.

There are several premieres by U.S. directors that seem to be genre films, one being “Ida Red” with Melissa Leo, Frank Grillo, Josh Hartnett and William Forsythe, directed by John Swab (“Body Brokers”).

“Ida Red” is a piece of Americana. It’s rural gangsterism with this interesting Western overtone. I really like the ensemble cast with strong American actors like Forsythe and Melissa Leo. It harks back back a bit to the kind of films Corman used to make with Shelley Winters [“Bloody Mama”]. It was a complete surprise; it plays with genre, but plays by its own rules. I love this kind of American cinema. I think the audience will have a great time.


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