My biggest memory of Locarno is love. It’s a really beautiful place to screen a film and a wonderful place to watch a film. (Aamir Khan)
It’s that time of the year again, when everything in Locarno becomes black and yellow and leopards pop up everywhere, it’s time for the film festival! If you have something to do with the industry you will most likely know about the festival, if not you’ve probably never heard of it. But if you like movies, and I’m not talking about the huge Hollywood productions, then you should definitely come to Locarno and experience the biggest of the small film festivals and follow the frenzy around the run for the golden leopard. Every year, for eleven days in august, all around the city you can watch more than 200 films. Movies from all over the world on very different topics so that there’s something for everyone. Here’s my little practical guide for getting the most out of the festival and everything that surrounds it.
PIAZZA GRANDE is the main venue of the festival where every evening you can see one or two movies. Watching a film in this open air square is simply magical and something you have to experience at least once. Around 10’000 people can sit in the Piazza in front of the huge screen, but if you want to get a good place get there early! Especially at the weekend it can get crazy and I’ve seen people sitting on the very uncomfortable cobbled ground more than once because having a ticket doesn’t guarantee you a chair. They usually close the piazza between 19.30 and 20.00, so make sure to be there shortly after 20.00 or for a good spot even before the closing of the square. There are quite a few restaurants on the piazza so you can get sandwiches or a take away pizza to eat on your chair. If you’re up for some ice cream, Al Bottegone is your most obvious choice, their gelato is good and they have a nice flavours selection. Unfortunately the queue is often very long, so here’s my tip, just walk down two houses and you’ll find the Pizzeria Portico, they have home made ice cream as well, and even if their selection is much smaller, the quality is good and there’s never a queue. Or option number two (that’s what I usually do) leave the Piazza for a few minutes, exit through the main entrance and just outside, under the arcade, you’ll find the Gelateria Golosa, best ice cream in town according to yours truly.
It sometimes can be a bit chilly and windy at night in the piazza, so come prepared. And bring a rain coat as well, you never know! Umbrellas are a no go, or can you imagine sitting behind somebody with an open umbrella? So what if it rains really hard? They will continue showing the film in the Piazza but also at the Palazzetto Fevi. If you’re not afraid of the rain stay in the piazza, in case look for shelter under the arcades, it’s actually quite special and fun to see a movie under these extreme conditions. If you rather not get wet and the weather forecast predicts rain, just go to Fevi before the film even starts. And again, be there early as this venue, compared to the piazza, is much smaller!
A DAY AT THE FESTIVAL. Starting from 9.00 in the morning until about 1 at night you can watch movies non stop. During the day you will most likely spend your time around the Fevi/Morettina area, even though there are other venues too. If you plan to spend the day watching films, come prepared, bring some water and a light sweater as the air conditioning is sometimes a bit cold. There are just a few small restaurants in the area, so you may want to bring a sandwich as well. Don’t be afraid to leave the venue if you don’t like the film, just go through the program and find something else to watch, or you may even want to attend one of the film talks they hold at the Forum (which lies just between Fevi and La Sala / L’altra Sala). Choosing what film to watch can sometimes be a challenge, I usually just read the abstract and sometimes watch the trailer but I occasionally still end up in boring pictures. If you’re in Locarno for more than one day then the best thing to do is start talking to the other festival goers and ask them what they’ve seen and if they can suggest good films, or even look for reviews on twitter, facebook or other internet sites. Most movies (but not the piazza ones!) are shown three times on consecutive days. Or you can focus on film categories, I have friends who watch all the movies in the main competition, my mum likes watching the shorts and I often attend the Swiss films…
A NIGHT AT THE FESTIVAL. Many people from Ticino come to the festival every year, without ever seeing a film. That’s because the night life is pretty exciting too. There are many different venues around town. You can’t overlook the Rotonda del Festival, in the middle of the roundabout in Piazza Castello. It’s a nice place to visit for dinner as there are stalls selling food from all over the world. The quality changes from stall to stall and unfortunately the prices are usually quite high. A personal favourite of many locals is the stall selling pizzoccheri, a specialty from the Valtellina: the food is excellent and the price is ok, but if the weather is very hot you may want to go for something lighter. At the Rotonda you will also find a small market selling clothes, lamps, jewels and so on, three or four big bars, a playground for children and a big stage where they held concerts. In front of the Magistrale, just above the Rotonda, you will find Area 621. The spot is really nice and every year they seem to offer something different. This year they hold a silent party, which means that you get headphones when entering the area and you can choose what music you want to listen and dance to. I tried it last year and it was fun for about 10 minutes, but then I got bored not being able to talk to my friends.
My favourite place to spend the night is the Teatro Paravento, in the old town of Locarno. In their terraced back garden, between old green houses, they set up some tables, a few coloured lights and a bar. They even have a small stage for concerts and sometimes hold exhibitions. It’s interesting, different, cool and unique. Go there to have a bite or to meet some interesting people after the end of the film in Piazza Grande.
Other bars in the area hold special events for the festival too, Caffé Borgo, Pardo Bar with its great location Rivellino Garden, Selz Bar&Café, Bar Castello, Blu, Bar Sport, Mono Bar… just to name a few.