Germany's "Das Verlangen" (Desire), directed by Iain Dilthey, has won the Golden Leopard for best film at this year's Locarno Festival, which wrapped up on Sunday.This content was published on August 11, 2002 - 21:28
Swiss directors Jacob Berger ("Aime ton père") and Rolando Colla ("Oltre il confine") both went home empty-handed. But there was some consolation for the Swiss when the Zurich-based film-maker, Samir, won the critics' week prize for his documentary "Forget Baghdad - Jew and Arabs - The Iraqi connection".
The most popular film with the public, though, was the British film "Bend it like Beckham", which picked up the prize for best film shown at the open-air Piazza Grande.
It helped to be a child in the acting category, with the best actress award going to 15-year-old Taraneh Allidousti for her role in "I'm Taraneh, 15". Best actor was also won by a child, ten-year-old Giorgos Karayannis, for his role in the Greek film "Hard goodbye my father".
And the winner is...
The biggest winner, though, was perhaps the town of Locarno - and the festival itself. A record 180,000 people turned up over the 11 days - an increase of around six per cent over last year.
The future of the festival, at least in terms of its popularity, seems guaranteed, but there has to be a question mark as to how much it can continue to grow and whether Locarno will be able to cope with an ever-increasing number of visitors.
Although she is unable to offer concrete solutions as to how the festival might deal with bigger audiences, the artistic director, Irene Bignardi, remains upbeat about the future of the festival.
"It will continue to grow and if we have too many people we'll cope," she told swissinfo. "We want parallel additions rather than vertical ones - in other words more retrospectives, and we are not worried about becoming a victim of success. We'll cope."
If she did not know it before, Bignardi must now be fully aware that the major strengths of the festival are the popular retrospectives and special events. This year, they included the short film section, critics' week, a look at the work of Allan Dwan, Afghanistan day and the 30-film-strong Indian Summer.
If a criticism can be levelled at the organisers, it is that they underestimated how successful these strands of the festival would be.
In many cases, "emergency" second screenings needed to be arranged to meet demand, and although there may have been a few disgruntled customers unable to get through the door first time around, most seemed to leave happy.
The same, though, could not be said for the main town square - the Piazza Grande - which is converted into an open-air, 8,000-seater cinema with a giant screen for the duration of the festival.
Visitors had been promised a selection of "good" films offering what Bignardi called an "edge" - a range of films which she said would offer people a "balance between desire and reality".
Instead, there was plenty of bottom-shuffling as the audience became aware of just how hard the seats were, walk-outs halfway through screenings, and lacklustre applause for many of the films from those who had stuck it out until the credits rolled.
The focus that was very much in evidence for other sections of the festival was missing completely from the Piazza Grande.
"Where is the common theme?" was the often-repeated question. Some films clearly had no place being shown to a large public which was expecting a more accessible movie. They would perhaps have been better appreciated in a different venue - or even a different festival.
Bignardi says she feels stung by the criticism, as she had not intended the Piazza Grande films to have a specific theme.
"Good films were chosen," she says. "Films with a common thread - in the sense that they looked at issues unconventionally - such as 'Insomnia' in which the cop and the criminal share the same guilt."
Of course, the magic of the Piazza Grande's setting was diminished by the most common theme of all over the 11 days - the weather.
Many screenings were postponed, cancelled, interrupted, or relocated according to the vagaries of what is turning into one of the wettest summers on record.
Locarno, and in particular its centrepiece - the Piazza Grande - definitely suffered this year as a result of the rain, which made decision-making an organisational nightmare.
Performances in the Piazza Grande started at 9.30pm, which meant a final decision based on the weather had to be taken in the early afternoon.
Rather than simply talking about covering the square for future years, the organisers should commission a feasibility study and be done with the subject once and for all. Can and should it be covered are two questions regularly asked but never answered.
Locarno has the flavour of Italy - the language, the food and the coffee. But it is undeniably and recognisably Swiss - the shops, the people and the service.
It is a small town of just 15,000 people that opens its doors to the film world once a year, and although the festival is approaching the 200,000 visitor mark, Locarno seems to be taking the success of the festival in its stride.
It may not be as internationally famous as the festivals in Cannes, Berlin or Venice, but even as it grows it retains a charm that would be hard to find elsewhere.
When some of the actors and directors taking part in Indian Summer asked the town's tourism director, Michael Schandroch, whether there was somewhere they could cook a meal, he offered them his home for the evening.
As Bignardi got into her car after leaving a screening at one of the festival venues, a visitor asked the artistic director whether she could give him a lift. Does the same sort of hospitality and informality really exist at any of the other major international film festivals?
by Jonathan Summerton with agencies
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