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The challenges the festival is facing and its ability to innovate

Interview with Simona Gamba, Deputy Director of Operations and Head of

Innovation and Digital Projects at Locarno Film Festival



Despite the pandemic situation the Locarno Film Festival was able to adapt and propose a 73rd edition with a new look: The LOCARNO 2020 special edition. What were the biggest challenges?

Despite the difficult year we were lucky. At the beginning of 2020 the festival was defining its long-term strategy which sees the August event in Locarno as the beating heart of our ecosystem but which aims to strengthen the festival's presence during the rest of the year with projects dedicated to young filmmakers, industry professionals and our community of cinephiles. According to our calculations the planning of this strategy would have taken three years. Covid-19 did not stop us; on the contrary this strategic process was greatly accelerated.

Since February 2020, when we unfortunately realised that our Festival as we know it was at risk, our focus has been on saving the organisation and its continuity, maintaining its relevance in the panorama of international film festivals and above all thinking of 2020 financially as an investment in our future, precisely for our long-term strategy.

In a spirit of solidarity and responsibility towards the film industry, together with our partners, we have developed projects that could help us not only to be present in such a difficult and more "virtual" year but also to test new platforms, services, and content - all in the service of our long-term strategic vision. 


So you had to introduce several novelties and adapt to the situation...

We introduced a new website in just a few months, a streaming platform and two service platforms for industry professionals and undertook a major redesign of processes, systems and service models. The limited number of screenings in theatres meant changing our IT and ticketing systems to include the tracking needs of our viewers. The complexity level dictated not only by the acceleration of implementation times but also by uncertainty, meant that we had to work on five scenarios simultaneously: All remotely with a set-up to which the team was not accustomed. There were also many exchanges with other festivals and other major events that experienced the same concerns as us and implemented effective solutions.          

There are aspects that we have learned from last year that we are using for the organisation of Locarno74. I can therefore confidently say that all the challenges we faced were in fact transformed into opportunities for growth and our relationship with partners, institutions and networks of festivals and professionals was definitely strengthened, as was our team and our internal knowledge and applications.  


Can you anticipate any news for the 74th edition?

We are planning a physical edition as complete as possible, in Locarno from 4 to 14 August, with all the necessary security measures, in accordance with what will be prescribed by the federal and cantonal health authorities in Switzerland.             

Unfortunately we will not be able to accommodate on the Piazza Grande the more than 8,000 spectators we usually host each evening but for now we are assuming that we can host a reduced number of people, all in safety and with the necessary social distancing.          

We have planned an online presence for those who cannot physically come to Locarno. I am in particular thinking of professionals (journalists, economic players in the film industry) who are in countries still subject to restrictions.

Artistic Director Giona A. Nazzaro and the team are working on the selection of the films and the definition of the award-winners which we will announce in the upcoming months. There is already a lot of official news about the edition but I will mention the most important ones. For the first time the official poster has been chosen through an international and national competition won by a young Swiss creative; the retrospective this year is dedicated to the Italian director Alberto Lattuada and already during the online edition of “L'immagine e la parola”, on 27 March, we will be able to see a taste of it with the free online presentation of his film “La Spiaggia”, visible on our website, as well as the presence of the guest of the festival's spring event, the writer Nicola Lagioia.


In your current role your aim is to expand the digital activities of the Locarno Film Festival. How important is it for an international event to be able to offer innovative products?

The eleven-day physical event has grown a lot over the last 20 years but at present it has limited margins for growth. The increase in physical audiences in Locarno for example is limited by the facilities available while online the opportunities to reach new audiences is higher.

Nobody wants to replace the physical festival in August which will always remain the beating heart of our offer. Rather, our challenge is to expand, to innovate, and to be relevant to our communities of cinephiles, professionals, and young people throughout the year with high-profile content and services observing and promoting new languages and becoming enablers of exchange and dialogue.         

The numbers show that the growth potential of our communities is very high. This is demonstrated, for example, by the winter initiative Locarno Shorts Weeks, an online festival dedicated to short films that has just ended which sees a growth in viewers of over 200% every year and which reaches 160 countries.          

The key is to develop sustainable and long-lasting models that have this kind of growth dynamic and allow the festival to reach geographies far from our own, allowing us to expand our audience and attract talent, industry professionals and cinephile to Locarno in the years to come. 


Thanks to the digitalisation of its activities, the Locarno Film Festival will be able to be even more international and accessible not only to a wider audience but also to partners and perhaps wider sponsorships?

Absolutely. The complexity has increased but so have the opportunities for us and our public and private partners: We are no longer only talking to an audience in Locarno made up of cinephiles, tourists, industry professionals, etc. In this respect with the current 150 partners there is not much potential left in the traditional framework of our festival.

In recent years we have found ourselves with physical and online audiences spread throughout the year on many different touchpoints, ranging from the Piazza Grande, to the theatres, to the Rotonda, to the app, to social media, to the website, to meetings, to masterclasses and so on.

The opportunities for activation are many and we are working with our partners to design the best experience for our all-round audiences. We are no longer talking about classic sponsorship agreements but real models of co-design and collaboration for our future. It becomes crucial for both us and our partners to remain curious about the changing world, to be open to innovation and the concept of user experience, especially now that the general changes of the last year and a half are here to stay, and the film and festival industry will certainly reorganise itself to understand where and how movies can be seen, consumed and produced through new industry cycles that are still being reshaped.

We do not want to be unprepared.