Although the Locarno Film Festival is best known for showcasing elite European and Asian auteurs, this ‘biggest of the small festivals’ or ‘smallest of the big festivals’ maintains a commitment to documentary cinema. Despite grumbling about the quality of new feature-length work, this was quite a good year for non-fiction cinema, excellent examples of which could be found in some surprising parts of the festival.
One part of the festival where it was no surprise to find such cinema was in the Critic’s Week selection. Sponsored by the Association of Swiss Film Journalists, their annual tradition is to showcase seven documentaries deserving of a wider viewership. The most moving of these was Johan Kramer’s The Other Final: Bhutan vs. Montserrat. Kramer organised a football match between these two lowest-ranked teams, seeing it as an opportunity to recover the peaceful, internationalist essence of sport. His film has some moments of comedy, and a keen analysis of third world politics runs throughout. There is not a single moment of Jamaican-bobsled-style condescension. Other notable Critic’s Week entries included The Peter Sellars Story – As He Filmed It, produced by the BBC’s Arena studio and directed by Anthony Wall and Peter Lydon (Sellars obsessively shot Super-8, and Wall and Lydon make highly efficient use of what must have been a huge mass of film), Sam Green’s *The Weather Underground (which featured great interviews with aging American militants and fascinating footage from the 1960s, including bits from Chris Maker’s The Sixth Face of the Pentagon) and Didier Nion’s Dix-Sept Ans (which centred on a troubled seventeen-year-old in Northern France who sometimes seems to be held together solely by his incredibly supportive and wise-beyond-her-years girlfriend; Nion himself becomes a character at the end of the film, when it becomes clear that his presence in their lives was not always welcome).
The festival hosted a huge programme of post-Soviet work sponsored by the Soros Institute’s Open Society Institute; they showed their entire series Gender Montage: Paradigms in Post-Soviet Space. There were some fascinating entries here (including Liana Jakeli’s Invisible, about gender politics in Georgia’s Azeri minority community and Gaukhar Sydykova and Dilia Ruzieva’s Red Butterflies Where Two Springs Merge, about an old Kyrgyz rug-weaver), but there was just too much to take in during a single sitting.