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Bignardi puts her stamp on Locarno

Crowds are once again gathering for film showings in the Piazza Grande (www.pardo.ch)

The final Locarno film festival under artistic director Irene Bignardi, who is leaving after five years at the helm, opened on Wednesday.

It started with screenings of two Indian films, the 61-second feature Village Football - the shortest work at the festival - followed by The Rising - Ballad of Mangal Pandey.

Bignardi’s farewell very much bears her signature, with films on personal themes, an abundance of awards and a retrospective on Orson Welles – but no blockbusters.

All eyes will be on the 17-film international competition, which Bignardi says is somewhat different in tone to that of 2004.

"Last year... we were aware of how the tragedies of 9/11 and the war in Iraq had impacted fundamentally on filmmakers’ consciences... so the vast majority of films dealt with history, politics and questions about society," said Bignardi in her introduction to the festival.

"This year... there’s been a return towards introspection, psychological analysis, the oneiric [dream] dimension and the world of the fantastic."

Several films up for the Golden Leopard have fantasy elements, such as The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes and MirrorMask.

Human interest

Others, such as Nine Lives – starring Glenn Close and Holly Hunter and considered the most prominent entry in competition – are more about human interest. In this case, the film records the dilemmas of nine women in intertwining vignettes.

There is also a strong female protagonist in the only Swiss entry, the long-awaited Snow White by Iraqi-Swiss director, Samir.

The film, which is set in Zurich, portrays the downfall of a beautiful but disturbed girl.

As ever, Locarno’s giant outdoor screen will be in the Piazza Grande in the heart of the town and will show a wide variety of films, mixing premieres with old favourites.

For the first time three directors will receive Leopards of Honour – Wim Wenders, Abbas Kiarostami and Terry Gilliam – a move which Bignardi calls "an exceptional but fitting conclusion to a cycle at the Locarno film festival".

Wenders’ latest offering, the road movie Don’t Come Knocking, will be shown in the Piazza, as will Kiarostami’s 1994 film Through the Olive Trees and Terry Gilliam's Time Bandits.

Also attending the festival are United States stars John Malkovich and Susan Sarandon who will both be at the annual lakeside festival in canton Ticino to receive an Excellence Award.

No blockbusters

But missing from the line-up is Swiss director Marc Forster’s new film Stay. The festival said this was due to a decision by the Swiss distributor.

Another regret is that there are no blockbusters. Bignardi said Locarno’s timing means that it is too late for the big summer films, released in the United States on July 4 and distributed in Europe in late July.

And distributors are not willing to hand over films ahead of the other main release period in the US, Thanksgiving, owing to fears of piracy, she added.

However, Bignardi said some new films would be shown at the Piazza, including some Bollywood movies, following on from the phenomenal success of Lagaan in 2001.

The festival is also proud of this year’s retrospective, an "exhaustive" look at the life and times of US director and actor, Orson Welles.

Apart from showing all his works, including Citizen Kane, there will be side-events featuring witnesses and academics offering fresh insights into the work of "The Magnificent Welles".

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

The festival runs from August 3 to 13.
Seventeen films will compete for the Golden Leopard award.
There is one film in competition from Switzerland.
Eighteen films will be screened in Piazza Grande.
Three Leopards of Honour will be awarded.

end of infobox

In brief

Wim Wenders has worked in Germany and Hollywood. Films include Wings of Desire for which he won Best Director at Cannes in 1987. His latest is Don’t Come Knocking.

Abbas Kiarostami is said to be the greatest of contemporary Iranian directors. His works include Close-up and Through the Olive Trees.

Terry Gilliam is a former member of Monty Python. His successes include The Fisher King, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Twelve Monkeys.

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