Ben Burtt
Ben Burtt (courtesy Locarno Film Festival)

Ben Burtt, legendary sound designer, editor, and voice actor behind the Star Wars and Indiana Jones franchises and winner of four Academy Awards will be honored with the Vision Award Ticinomoda, at the 77th Locarno Film Festival.

The award which is dedicated to creatives whose work has extended the horizons of cinema will be given on Wednesday, August 14 in Piazza Grande, followed by a public conversation at the Forum @Spazio Cinema on Thursday, August 15.

The beeping of R2-D2. The Wilhelm Scream. The swoosh of the lightsaber. Darth Vader’s heavy, mechanical breathing. Wall-E’s electronic warble. Ewokese, the language spoken on the moon of Endor. All of these came from the mind of a single man: Ben Burtt, the multi-Academy Award winning sound designer and voice actor. Burtt is behind a staggering number of sound effects that have since imprinted themselves on the minds of several generations of audiences and are still imitated in school playgrounds around the world today. When the titular character in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) raised his luminous finger and uttered the legendary sentence “E.T. phone home” – that croaking voice that has become the stuff of legend? That was the raspy voice of a chain-smoker Ben Burtt discovered in a coffee shop.

As well as numerous other accolades, Burtt won Academy Awards for Sound Effects Editing twice, in 1982 for E.T. and in 1989 for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as well as two other Special Achievement Sound Editing Academy Awards for Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).

As well as his sound work and his work as editor of the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (1999-2005), Burtt is also an accomplished director in his own right, directing documentaries on varied subjects – from space flight and the space station (Blue Planet in 1990 and Destiny in Space in 1994), to the history of American crime (The American Gangster, 1992) to, of course, his own field: Special Effects: Anything Can Happen (1996). Recently, Burtt created Behold, a non-linear film experience on movies and Outer Space that plays in a permanent gallery at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.

Giona A. Nazzaro, Artistic Director of the Locarno Film Festival said “Ben Burtt is a key part of the Star Wars mythology. A young and precocious sound effects prodigy, he created a library of organic sounds to bring the universe of the film noises to life; these creations became inseparable from the mythology of the Lucasian saga. The list of his innovations is practically endless. For the hum of the lightsaber, he used the sound of a movie projector mixed with a cathode ray tube. To get Chewbacca’s verse he combined the cries of several animals (a bear, a walrus, a lion, and others) or for the sound of spaceship doors opening and closing he repurposed the sound of the doors on the Philadelphia subway. TIE fighters flying through space combined the noises of an elephant with the sound of a race-car on wet asphalt, while blaster sounds were taken from hammer blows on the wires of a radio tower. And finally, to get R2-D2’s beeps he repurposed the sound of the ARP 2600 synthesizer mixed with his voice. An Academy Award winner for effects in Star Wars, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Ben Burtt is a pioneer and visionary who has fundamentally changed the way we perceive sound in cinema.”

The 77th Locarno Film Festival will take place from 7 to 17 August 2024.

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