Locarno Film Festival Winners: ‘Critical Zone’ By Persecuted Iranian Filmmaker Ali Ahmadzadeh Takes Top Prize

Iranian filmmaker Ali Ahmadzadeh clinched the Golden Leopard in the main international competition of the 76th Locarno Film Festival with his latest feature Critical Zone (Mantagheye Bohrani).

Ahmadzadeh was not in attendance to receive the award as he is currently banned from leaving his native Iran. Last month, the country’s authorities summoned Ahmadzadeh to the Ministry of Security, where he was pressured to pull Critical Zone from Locarno’s official competition. The film’s international sales agent Luxbox Paris and the producer, Sina Ataeian Dena, also said they had received threatening emails and messages demanding the film be pulled from the fest.

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The pic, described as “a hymn to freedom and resistance in Iran,” was shot without permission from authorities before recent protests started. The plot follows a man who drives through Tehran’s underworld with his dog, dealing drugs and healing troubled souls. Born in Tehran in 1986, Critical Zone is Ahmadzadeh’s fourth feature. His films largely chart Iran’s rebellious youth and their confrontation with the country’s theocracy. Ahmadzadeh is officially banned from working as a filmmaker in Iran. 

In other competition awards, this year’s newly introduced gender-neutral acting awards went to four female actors and one male actor. In the main competition, the two Best Performance gongs went to Dimitra Vlagopoulou for her performance in Animal by Greek filmmaker Sofia Exarchou and Renée Soutendijk for Sweet Dreams by Ena Sendijarević. The award for Best Direction went to Maryna Vroda for Stepne, while French filmmaker Quentin Dupieux won the Europa Cinemas Label award for Best European Film with Yannick. The pic will receive the support of the Europa Cinemas Network, with additional promotion and incentives for exhibitors to extend its run on screen. Sold internationally by Kinology, Yannick is produced by Atelier de Production (France) and Chi-Fou-Mi Productions (France). 2023 marks the tenth time the Europa Cinemas Label has been awarded in Locarno.

This year’s competition jury featured Aftersun director Charlotte Wells and Iranian actor Zar Amir Ebrahimi (Holy Spider) alongside French actor Lambert Wilson, European Film Academy CEO Matthijs Wouter Knol, and New York Lincoln Center’s president of film Lesli Klainberg.

The festival opened with L’Étoile Filante (The Falling Star) by Fiona Gordon and Dominique Abel. This evening, the festival will close with Shayda, presented by director Noora Niasari and lead actress Ebrahimi. 214 films screened across the festival program. On the industry side, Locarno reported a growth of over 10% in attendees, welcoming 1,530 people at the event. This included 1,460 attending in person, while 70 were online. 2022 saw 1,377 (1,266 onsite, 111 online) visitors. 

Check out the full list of winners below:

Concorso internazionale

Pardo d’oro, Grand Prize of the Festival of the City of Locarno to the best film MANTAGHEYE BOHRANI (CRITICAL ZONE) by Ali Ahmadzadeh, Iran/Germany

Special Jury Prize of the Cities of Ascona and Losone NU AȘTEPTA PREA MULT DE LA SFÂRȘITUL LUMII (DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD) by Radu Jude, Romania/Luxembourg/France/Croatia

Pardo for Best Direction of the City and Region of Locarno Maryna Vroda for STEPNE, Ukraine/Germany/Poland/Slovakia

Pardo for Best Performance Dimitra Vlagopoulou for ANIMAL by Sofia Exarchou, Greece/Austria/Romania/Cyprus/Bulgaria

Pardo for Best Performance Renée Soutendijk for SWEET DREAMS by Ena Sendijarević, Netherlands/Sweden/Indonesia/Reunion

Special Mention NUIT OBSCURE – AU REVOIR ICI, N’IMPORTE OÙ by Sylvain George, France/Switzerland

Concorso Cineasti del presente

Pardo d’oro Concorso Cineasti del presente to the best film HAO JIU BU JIAN (DREAMING & DYING) by Nelson Yeo, Singapore/Indonesia

Best Emerging Director Award of the City and Region of Locarno Katharina Huber for EIN SCHÖNER ORT, Germany

Special Jury Prize CINÉ+ CAMPING DU LAC by Éléonore Saintagnan, Belgium/France

Pardo for Best Performance Clara Schwinning for EIN SCHÖNER ORT by Katharina Huber, Germany

Pardo for Best Performance Isold Halldórudóttir and Stavros Zafeiris for TOUCHED by Claudia Rorarius, Germany

Special Mentions EKSKURZIJA (EXCURSION) by Una Gunjak, Bosnia-Herzegovina/Croatia/Serbia/France/Norway/Qatar NEGU HURBILAK by Colectivo Negu, Spain

First Feature

Swatch First Feature Award

HAO JIU BU JIAN (DREAMING & DYING) by Nelson Yeo, Singapore/Indonesia

Pardi di domani

Concorso Corti d’autore

Pardino d’oro Swiss Life for the Best Auteur Short Film THE PASSING by Ivete Lucas, Patrick Bresnan, USA

Special Mention and Short Film candidate of the Locarno Film Festival for the European Film Awards BEEN THERE by Corina Schwingruber Ilić, Switzerland

Concorso internazionale

Pardino d’oro SRG SSR for the Best International Short Film EN UNDERSØGELSE AF EMPATI (A STUDY OF EMPATHY) by Hilke Rönnfeldt, Denmark/Germany

Pardino d’argento SRG SSR for the International Competition DU BIST SO WUNDERBAR by Leandro Goddinho, Paulo Menezes, Germany/Brazil

Pardi di domani Best Direction Award – BONALUMI Engineering Eric K. Boulianne for FAIRE UN ENFANT, Canada

Medien Patent Verwaltung AG Award NEGAHBAN (THE GUARD) by Amirhossein Shojaei, Iran

Special Mention THE LOVERS by Carolina Sandvik, Sweden

Concorso nazionale

Pardino d’oro Swiss Life for the Best Swiss Short Film LETZTE NACHT by Lea Bloch, Switzerland

Pardino d’argento Swiss Life for the National Competition NIGHT SHIFT by Kayije Kagame, Hugo Radi, Switzerland

Best Swiss Newcomer Award LETZTE NACHT by Lea Bloch, Switzerland

Pardo Verde Ricola

Pardo Verde Ricola ČUVARI FORMULE (GUARDIANS OF THE FORMULA) by Dragan Bjelogrlić, Serbia/Slovenia/Montenegro/ North Macedonia

Special Mentions PROCIDA, film made by the participants of Procida Film Atelier, Italy VALLEY PRIDE by Lukas Marxt, Austria/Germany

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