the new radical cinema
Originally published in the Locarno in Los Angeles 2018 program
Welcome to the second edition of Locarno Festival in Los Angeles. And if you were with us last year for our inaugural edition, welcome back. We hope that you’ll not only experience the same kind of weekend-long, curated exploration of Locarno Festival that last year brought, but that you’ll make unexpected discoveries this time around.
The fact that Locarno in Los Angeles is back is in part a tribute to the consistently revelatory program that Locarno Festival annually delivers, fulfilling its mission to present to enthusiastic audiences the most engaging survey possible of adventurous, radical cinema.
It’s also a tribute to our sponsors. We want to thank Ascona-Locarno Tourism and Ticino Tourism for their generous support, making this program possible. As in our first edition, the myriad forms of support and assistance by the Swiss Consulate General of Los Angeles is greatly appreciated. We want to thank our other sponsors and Los Angeles organizations for their support: MUBI, the Millennium Biltmore Los Angeles, the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in Los Angeles, the Yanai Initiative, Meggitt USA, and KCOMM, as well as our important restaurant sponsors Señor Fish and Mariscos Jalisco.
We launched Locarno in Los Angeles because we determined that it was long overdue for the city to expand its perspective on genuinely international and independent cinema. As spoiled as Los Angeles may be with our plethora of big-screen cinemas and venues—a condition that remains unmatched in the world—we remain poor when it comes to a consistent access to the latest, most powerful new cinematic voices across all continents. Even as the theatrical market for foreign-language and more personal independent cinema continues to shrink (a condition, by the way, that has yet to be alleviated by home video streaming services, which, contrary to urban legend, do not show every movie ever made), filmmakers continue to make remarkable, if underseen, cinema. This is an old dilemma with the art form, but perhaps never more pressing than now, when so many superb, young artists have movies that demand to be seen by the largest audience possible.
Now is time to expand on the first edition—but only just slightly, so you can continue to view our entire lineup. What became clear to us, as we surveyed Locarno Festival’s 70th anniversary program, was that we could not only screen every winner in the three competition sections, but that we could go deeper to discover what can now be termed a New Radical Cinema. In distinctly different ways, this winning trio certainly belongs to this new phenomenon: In its intimate, single-minded focus on what the last stages of death actually feel like, Mrs. Fang (International Competition Golden Leopard) can be seen as a starkly opposite pole for revered independent Chinese filmmaker Wang Bing from his massive epic West of the Tracks; radical in its determination to get to the roots of a situation, Bulgarian writer-director Ilian Metev’s 3/4 (Filmmakers of the Present Golden Leopard) subtly weaves the points of view of three of four members of a fractured family unit; radically turning the conventional revenge drama on its head, filmmaker Nelson Carlo de Los Santos Arias’s Cocote (winner of the new Signs of Life Award) pits familial passions against personal faith in surprising, cinematic ways.
Like Metev and de Los Santos Arias, nearly all of the filmmakers on view in Locarno in Los Angeles will be discoveries for the audience. Some, such as South Korea’s Kim Dae-hwan, with his emotional generational chamber drama The First Lap, and Japan’s Ninomiya Ryutaro, with Sweating the Small Stuff, his account of a working-class young man at an existential cul-de-sac, honor classic narrative form but in new ways.
By blending re-enactments, improvisations, and interviews, Narimane Mari virtually invents new forms and expands on the ever-evolving idea of the in-between film with her groundbreaking Le fort des fous. Whereas Mari’s politics play out in Algeria, Basma Alsharif’s transcend political borders in Ouroboros, developing between Gaza, Los Angeles, and beyond for another film journey that breaks beyond all categories. Shevaun Mizrahi, filming Distant Constellation alone and at a 2:1 shooting ratio (unheard of in non-fiction cinema), takes up residence in an Istanbul retirement residence and discovers a kaleidoscopic panoply of elderly characters who sometimes feel like they occupy a world out of space and time. You may be tempted at first to think of Blake Williams’s PROTOTYPE (in 3D!) as a “documentary,” but such terms are exploded by the end of this 63-minute visual trip. Perfectly representing the unpredictable resurgence of radical, independent Chinese film production at a political moment of extreme conservatism and totalitarianism, Xu Bing’s Dragonfly Eyes appropriates the country’s ubiquitous surveillance camera system as a lens for a story that traverses Buddhism to hyper-tech. Our closing night film, Pedro Cabeleira’s Damned Summer, encapsulates the idea of a new radical cinema in its fusion of the feeling of drift with the experience of nightcrawling young people finding their way.
Well known to our Acropolis Cinema audience, peripatetic Los Angeles-based filmmaker Ben Russell (one of several in this year’s program to shoot on 16mm film, itself a radical act in the digital age) traverses Suriname and Serbia for distinctly personal portraits of two different mining communities. Building on an already considerable following in Latin America and beyond, Adirley Queirós turns the once-utopian Brazilian capital into a sci-fi zone of revolution and crazy space ships in Once There Was Brasilia. Raúl Ruiz, a late genius of radical narrative cinema, made La telenovela errante during his return to Chile in 1990 after a decades-long exile, only for it to seemingly disappear. It’s re-discovery and reconstruction last year is one of the great cinematic archaeology projects of our time.
The notion of radically questioning the nature of cinema—the meaning of the images seen and the sounds heard coming off the big screen—extends to the shorts program, a wide-ranging selection that includes new work by Dane Komljen (present last year with his debut feature All the Cities of the North), Canada’s Kazik Radwanski, Spaniards Luis López Carrasco, Helena Girón and Samuel M. Delgado, and a 16mm film (shot and projected) by the gifted American filmmaker Jodie Mack.
We also had to ask ourselves as we assembled the program you’re about to see: Are we looking at the future of cinema here? The answer could be yes, but it’s one that we’ll be exploring further Saturday afternoon with a panel titled “Are Film Festivals the Future of Cinema?” with Locarno Festival artistic director Carlo Chatrian leading the discussion. The audience is essential to this future, and we want to thank you for joining the adventure.
Have a wonderful festival!
Artistic Directors, Locarno in Los Angeles/Acropolis Cinema