Interview with Marco Solari

“In a magic triangle is where I would place Ascona: luxuriating between the cafes of the old Borgo, the Brissago Islands and the heights of Monte Verità, where the spirit of Mitteleuropa lives on”. 

These are the words of Marco Solari, President of the Locarno Film Festival as he reveals his deep connections to Ascona and its people, whom he describes as “determined, unerring in the pursuit of anything they undertake to achieve”.

Born in 1944, Solari gained experience in high-level management before joining the Canton of Ticino’s Tourist Board and then moving to the Ringier media group, where he was responsible, amongst other things, for organising the 700th anniversary celebrations of the Federation of Migros Cooperatives. Now, with 20 years at the helm of one of the world’s leading film festivals, he appears to relish the renewed energy that each year brings.

How was it coming into the world of the Festival?

In some ways it wasn’t new for me: my role demanded the ability to fuse cultural sensitivity, organisational skills and the world of art and communications with particular focus on the tourist industry. So, in a sense it felt like coming home.

 

Can you describe to our readers the most exciting aspects of your work?

During the Festival I feel rather like the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: I find myself running from one thing to another, interacting with international guests then swiftly on to our important partners. Impossible as it may seem, I have very little time to watch the actual films – my most treasured memories come from spending time with people.

Can you give us some examples?

There are so many. Michel Piccoli, who is incapable of coming out with a predictable or banal sentence. Claudia Cardinale, whose beauty is born from within and who can express herself with an intelligent glance or a captivating smile. 

And then I recall the actor and musician Harry Belafonte, who gave a speech on the duty of the artist to speak his mind; it was greeted with a roar from the crowd in the Piazza.

Go on…

I remember how moved I was to be on stage with greats such as Oscar winning actor Adrien Brody, Susan Sarandon, Andy Garcia, Charlotte Rampling and of course Nobel prize-winner Dario Fo, who mesmerised the entire Piazza with his thespian charms, or German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl reading his poem “Der Gaukler” (The Juggler).

 

Can you describe in a few words your trajectory to becoming Festival Director?

When I started, the Festival was experiencing some problems. So, I began by asking for, and obtaining, support from the Canton and also sought private sponsorship to boost our resources.

These moves led to a vertical upturn, increasing our budget from 4 to 13 million Swiss Francs per event, with some 200 partners involved. From there we managed to sustain horizontal growth in terms of selection and quality of films. We diversified into new areas, built a wider and denser network of talent in every field and invested in training and international relations.

So that the festival today is on a par with Cannes, Venice and Berlin.

With one distinguishing feature: we view ourselves as a young and independent festival, more content- than glamour- driven, friendlier and more intelligent. A real “place” where artists don’t come for the red carpet or adoring crowds, but somewhere they can get their message across and be listened to, a kind of conversation on a wider scale which is never impersonal, whether with the public, journalists or critics. It goes beyond the pure film buffs to reach a wider audience of enthusiasts. And we manage all this, despite having to compete with much bigger and richer events like Berlin and Venice.

 

How have film festivals changed over the years?

Once upon a time, festivals were the platform to launch new films. Today, however, with the transformation of distribution channels, we have been able to discover or rediscover material that may not otherwise reach cinema screens. Our current challenge is to recognise change and work with it, striving all the while to promote the best of what’s out there. I like to think that a festival shouldn’t be judged on its best three films but on its five worst.

And digitalisation?

Ok, we’re ready for that too. Over the last few years we have been working on the increasingly complex chemistry between the Piazza and the digital experience. For example, we’re introducing the brand-new Locarno Short Weeks, an alternative concept to the normal streaming platforms which offers a carefully edited selection of short films so that whoever was able to see them at home in February, one film per day, could cast their vote and so become part of the Festival experience.

How does the Festival contribute to Locarno going forward?

Aside from the cultural aspects and the sheer magic of Piazza Grande and the Locarno area in general, the Festival brings huge economic benefits to the city in August and beyond, attracting informed and high-quality tourism. Locarno and Ascona enjoy worldwide recognition, which means that every franc invested today in the Festival will bring in three.

 

And what do you see as Ascona’s role?

Ascona is still a unique place which never goes out of fashion; it maintains its traditional roots and yet is a lively and inventive meeting point for intelligent and perceptive minds. Testament to this is are places like Monte Verità, where, together with Enzo Bergonzoli, we conceived the seasonal Eventi Letterari, a series of seasonal literary events. Ascona radiates intellectual vitality, learning and a deep connection to its roots.

 

What are the challenges that lie ahead?

We must continue to assert our place amongst the great international film festivals by discovering new talent in every sphere, from actors, directors and screenwriters to artistic directors, teams on the ground, and in the world of communication. One day, when I hand over this role to my successor, I hope they will find a Festival full of potential to grow and flourish, whilst maintaining its special identity – an amalgam of intellect, vitality, pride, strength and material and moral energy.

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