Harry Belafonte pays tribute to his Carmen Jones director Otto Preminger in Locarno.

Harry Belafonte in Locarno

Harry Belafonte in Locarno

Harry Belafonte was in fine form last night in Locarno, accepting his Golden Leopard honour. He seemed to get a kick out of hearing The Banana Boat Song (aka Day O) as he walked down the red carpet, and humbled by the huge crowd on the Piazza Grande assembled for the evening’s presentation and screening (thankfully there was none of the torrential rain that had plagued the Piazza the previous two nights.)

On the occassion of the festival’s Otto Preminger retrospective, he said: “Preminger was a great human being and a good friend.” He praised not only “his great work but also his great humanity.”

He said that black entertainers were “looked upon as subhuman” in 1954 when Preminger made Carmen Jones. “He used his power and his platform the way people in cinema viewed black artists.”

The famed activist, now 85, is the subject of new documentary Sing Your Song (screening here at the festival), said he hoped Locarno’s audiences would “leave here inspired to do work to help us sort out the universe.”

The tone swiftly changed as the team from raunchy comedy Bachelorette introduced their film and had no intentions of saving the universe. Actress Lizzy Caplan joked: “We apologise in advance for the filthy things you are about to see.”