The 59th Locarno International Film Festival will be "a journey of discovery around the world", according to new artistic director Frédéric Maire.
Switzerland's biggest film festival starts with a bang on Wednesday with the European première of Michael Mann's eagerly awaited Miami Vice, and concludes next Saturday with the prestigious Golden Leopard award.
A total of 172 feature-length films will be shown, down from around 250 last year, of which 17 will be beamed onto the largest open-air film screen in Europe in Locarno's main square, the Piazza Grande.
Twenty-one films from 17 countries will vie for the Golden Leopard, including one from Switzerland: Andrea Staka's first film Das Fräulein, a subtle portrait of three female immigrants from the former Yugoslavia living in Zurich.
Maire, in charge of his first festival since taking over from Irene Bignardi, wants Locarno to build on its reputation as an international festival at the heart of Europe and be a "place of discoveries", with works by experienced and first-time directors and all kinds of cinema, from genre film to visual art.
To this end, a multi-section programme has been devised. During the day, the best and most innovative of contemporary cinema will be offered through the International Competition, Play Forward's experimental works and the new Filmmakers of the Present competition.
This year the Leopards of Tomorrow, a section for short films, goes "East of the Mediterranean".
In addition Open Doors, supported by the Swiss government's aid agency, will continue to highlight film projects from nations that are still developing – in film terms, at least – and assist them in the search for production partners.
Following previous focuses on Cuba, Argentina, the Mekong region and Arab North Africa, Open Doors looks this year to Southeast Asia.
Then in the evening, the Piazza Grande, which Maire wants to be the festival's "hub and showcase", will come alive with a selection of films that reflects the whole programme.
These range from the United States satire Little Miss Sunshine to more demanding films such as Carla's List, Marcel Schüpbach's documentary on Carla Del Ponte, the Swiss chief United Nations war crimes prosecutor.
Eleven of the 18 films being shown in the Piazza Grande are world or international premières and five are Swiss.
Notable films in the Piazza Grande that have already chalked up success include Das Leben der Anderen (The Life of Others), an enormous critical and commercial hit in Germany, and Indigènes (Natives) from Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb, which won Best Actor (for five of its actors) at Cannes in May.
Swiss Cinema Day on August 8 will highlight Swiss films, auteurs, producers and the entire industry for the Swiss public (whatever their linguistic background), professionals and overseas visitors.
The Retrospective is devoted to Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki, probably most famous for his 1989 cult classic Leningrad Cowboys Go America.
In addition to the Piazza Grande screening of Kaurismäki's latest film Lights in the Dusk – the final film in his "loser trilogy" after Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past – cineastes will have the chance to view 20 films which he considers important personal reference points.
The Leopard of Honour goes to Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov, whose 2003 international hit Russian Ark, a 90-minute, one-take historical epic, will be screened in the Piazza Grande on August 11.
Sokurov's latest film Elegy of Life, on the Russian-born cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, will also be shown at the festival.
A Locarno Excellence Award will be presented to Willem Dafoe, the US actor famous – depending on the height of your brow – for playing Jesus in Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ and the Green Goblin in Spider-Man.
swissinfo, Thomas Stephens
The Locarno International Film Festival was founded in 1946. It is held in August and is attended by around 190,000 visitors and up to 4,000 professionals. The main award is the Golden Leopard.
Cannes was also founded in 1946, a month after Locarno. The May festival is reserved for industry professionals and up to 30,000 attend each year. The prize is the Golden Palm.
The Venice Film Festival was created in 1932. It takes place in late August and early September and the winning film receives a Golden Lion.
The Berlin International Film Festival was founded in 1951, takes place every February and confers the Golden Bear.
The 59th Locarno Film Festival takes place from August 2-12.
The 2006 budget has dropped by 1.5% to SFr9.8 million ($7.9 million).
21 films will be in competition, while 17 are being shown in the Piazza Grande, which can hold up to 7,000 people.
Five Swiss films (including two shorts) will be shown in the Piazza Grande.
Miami Vice, Michael Mann's adaption of his own television series, will open the festival.
Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov will receive the Leopard of Honour and American actor Willem Dafoe will receive an award for excellence.