A Talk with Olivier Père
In a meeting with the eight participants of the Critics Academy, Locarno artistic director Olivier Père recalled how he found his way to the festival and shared his formula for success.
Before he became the artistic director of the Film Festival, the France native had never set foot in Locarno. After running the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar in Cannes for several years, he came to Locarno in 2009, when he was hired to succeed former artistic director Frédéric Maire. That year, he said, he was just an observer, and not involved in the actual festival proceedings. After that followed one year of preparation in order to figure out whether any of his ideas could be realized. With renewed energy, he brought fresh objectives to both the selection of the films and the organization of the festival. It was a challenge, he said: Whereas in Cannes he was only in charge for one section, in Locarno he had to oversee a much larger program. But he was ready for it.
While Locarno has been criticized for lacking glamour and publicity-friendly events, Père has kept on with the festival’s idea of advancing young and ambitious cinema. Among his additions this year: the “Histoire du Cinéma” section, which came from a desire to establish a counterpart to Cannes’ “Classics” sidebar.
Compared to Cannes, which automatically commands great importance, Locarno faces a tougher crowd. For this reason, Père said he still values the importance of bringing known names and red carpet glamor to the small city. So far his quest for the right balance has paid off: This is his third edition of the festival and his high-minded goal to compete in the global film scene with Cannes and Venice seems more reachable every year.
Before he was a programmer, Père started his career as a film critic. For members of the Critics Academy, he therefore is not only an important person of the cinema world but also a point of reference on the professional level. As he told this year's participants, he knows that the critics’ work has an influence on the public but is also important for films and filmmakers. "There are films that need more critiques because they are more controversial,” he said, bringing up last year’s “Policeman” (Nadav Lapid). Critics start the discussion about films at the festival, he said, so their work is essential.
One question had to be answered before the director left: Why is a leopard, an animal that does not even exist in Switzerland, patron of Locarno’s film festival and the mold for its top award? Père laughed. “Locarno takes place between Cannes and Venice,” he said. “To be taken seriously, it might not be a good idea to reward someone with a golden cow.”Claudia Piwecki