From the Grand Hotel to the Piazza Grande
The Locarno Film Festival’s Quest for Legitimacy (1946-1977)
Keywords:Switzerland, Film festival, Economy, Industry, Tourism, Cinema, Auteur cinema, Lobbying, Politics, Anticommunism, Cinephilia
The Locarno Film Festival is one of the oldest film festivals in the world. Founded in 1946, it is today widely recognized as an international hub for emerging cinema. However, what remains little known is that it was originally conceived as a touristic attraction managed by a few film professionals, and thus had to fight hard to impose its artistic and cultural ambitions over the interests of the tourism and film industries. This article shows that, considering that Locarno was neither created nor supported by political authorities or cultural institutions, its evolution heavily depended on the economic interests of a tourist organization and professional associations of film producers, distributors, and cinema operators. Looking beyond the official narrative publicized in commemorative books depicting the festival as a privileged place for avant-garde cinema since its early years, the article demonstrates that Locarno’s specialization in new cinema was decided in a context of commercial pressures and increasing competition between film festivals. Focusing on the period during which it evolved from a small-scale, provincial celebration to an international platform for art house cinema, it argues that the so-called cinephile editions of 1966–70—when the directors of the event decided to completely distance themselves from the tourist imperatives and commercial function of the festival—must be understood as a radical and short-lived experience in the history of Locarno, rather than a representative trend.
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