New director brings Locarno Film Festival back to its roots

(From left) Raphael Brunschwig, the festival's chief operating officer, Lili Hinstin, artistic director, and Marco Solari, festival president, during the 2019 programme presentation Keystone / Francesca Agosta

Lili Hinstin is marking her first year as artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival with one of the boldest and most exciting Locarno line-ups in years, according to many critics.

This content was published on July 18, 2019

The programme for the 72nd editionExternal link, which will run from August 7-17, was announced on Wednesday.

Faithful to its long tradition as a carefully curated showcase of not only European but also “peripheral” films (those made outside the US-European axis), the next festival promises quite a few surprises and changes, privileging young film-makers and experimental works of experienced directors without disregarding big audience tastes.

For the festival’s main venue, the open-air night sessions in the central Piazza Grande that holds up to 8,000 people, Hinstin was bold enough to resist the trend of offering the public “feel-good” films that cater to larger audiences.


She took up the tough challenge to bring quality films that captivate a wide spectrum of the public.

Her choices include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood, which premiered in Cannes and was re-edited by the director afterwards; Diego Maradona, a documentary about the Argentinian’s dark years playing for Napoli made by the director of the acclaimed Senna, Asif Kapadia; To the End of the Earth, by Japanese cult horror movie director Kyoshi Kurosawa; the German-Austrian thriller 7500 by Patrick Vollrath; and, opening the festival, Magari, an autobiographic fiction by Ginevra Elkann, granddaughter of Fiat’s larger-than-life industrialist Gianni Agnelli.

To add joy to cinephile pleasure, Hinstin created a second night-screening on the Piazza Grande, the Crazy Midnight sessions, with cult works by Korean director BONG Joon-ho and Americans Jack Hill and John Waters, among others. Waters, who is being honoured with a selected retrospective of his works, will also introduce a special screening of one of his favourite films, King Vidor’s Show People (1928). 

Hinstin also changed the title and the scope of the experimental film section from “Signs of Life” to “Moving Ahead”, a tribute to Jonas Mekas, long-time patron of experimental films, founder of New York’s Anthology Film Archives and a camera artist in his own right. The name of the Locarno experimental section refers to Mekas’s film As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000).

A new section devoted to virtual reality, "Gender Bender", will show works from Switzerland, Canada, Greece, Ukraine and France, selected, says Hinstin, less for their technological prowess than their “contemporary artistic perspectives”. This kind of work shall have an increasing space in future editions of the festival. 

Source of youth

For many years the festival has been nurturing parallel programmes dedicated to young talents. 

Locarno Academy comprises programmes for up-and-coming filmmakers, producers and critics. is also one of the media partners of the Critics Academy (see box), together with, Film Bulletin, MUBI, Variety and Indiewire.

This year, the festival introduces Base Camp. An old army barracks will lodge 200 creative talents (film-makers, artists, designers, poets etc.) aged 18-30 from all over the world, with no plan but full access to the festival’s venues and behind-the-scenes proceedings.

What will come out of it is anyone’s guess, but the new direction of the festival seems happy to take quite a few creative risks.

International scope

“Swiss Panorama”, a section traditionally dedicated to Swiss films, remains, but Hinstin made clear that under her direction the “Swissness” of a film is no longer a guarantee that it will be selected.

Mentioning the “impressive quality of the works of a new generation of Swiss film-makers”, Hinstin spread her choice of Swiss films throughout the festival’s various sections, side by side with international features. “A very smart move,” noted Giuseppe Salvatore and Ruth Baettig, critics and editors of, an online revue based in Basel.

The Swiss films that will be shown in Locarno include 21 co-productions of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, parent-company of Many of them deal with the timely questions of migration, diaspora and cross-cultural issues, such as O Fim do Mundo (The End of the World) by the Geneva director of Portuguese origin Basil da Cunha, selected for the international competition. There’s also Baghdad in my Shadow by Samir, a Zurich-based director born in Iraq, and Shalom Allah by David Vogel, in which an investigation into Swiss converts to Islam provokes a soul-searching trip to the director’s own Jewish roots. takes you to Locarno

This year, teamed up with Locarno Film Festival’s Critics AcademyExternal link, a parallel programme that selects ten young film journalists – four from Switzerland and six from all over the world – for a critical immersion in the festival. will provide extensive coverage of the festival in all our English channels: you can follow the main news, backstage and highlights on the live blog on our website, together with texts, video and visual features published under a special dossier.

On Instagram you can follow daily video feeds by the Critics Academy, exposing their insights on the films and Locarno curiosities. Updates can also be found on Twitter and Facebook. Come along!

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