Birthdays, blockbusters and divas
It may be celebrating its 60th birthday this year, but the Locarno film festival will not just be dwelling on its glorious past. Discovery remains the buzzword.
The event, which starts on Wednesday, sees the return of American films and includes plenty of works by and featuring women. A Swiss film has been selected for the main competition.
The question in everybody's minds this August may well be whether Locarno is as event-filled as last year, when artistic director Frédéric Maire collapsed on stage and a scandal affected the international competition jury.
But for now Maire is choosing not to dwell on this. "A birthday is not just for thinking about the past but also for building up the future," he said when the programme was announced last month.
As ever, the emphasis is on discovery and diversity - the 11-day festival is showing around 160 feature films from around 30 countries.
Many of them are world or international premieres, including the opening film on August 1, the Japanese Manga "Vexville", which will be shown in high definition – a first at Locarno.
New in 2007 is the abundance of American movies at the festival, which under previous director Irene Bignardi had distanced itself from the cult of the blockbuster.
The action-packed "The Bourne Ultimatum", starring Matt Damon, and the musical comedy "Hairspray", with John Travolta and Michele Pfeiffer, will both be shown on the festival's centrepiece, the huge giant outdoor screen on the central Piazza Grande.
There are two American films in the international competition, which this year includes 19 works from 14 countries. Among the US entries up for the Golden Leopard is the psychothriller "Slipstream", directed by and starring Anthony Hopkins.
Asian films also feature strongly in the competition, as they do overall at Locarno. The 2007 Leopard of Honour award for filmmakers is going to Chinese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, whose most recent work "The Flight of the Red Balloon" features French actress Juliette Binoche.
The Swiss entry in the international competition is "Fuori dalle corde", a debut film by the young director Fulvio Bernasconi, from the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland.
This tells the story of a failed boxer whose life is destroyed when he gets involved in the murky world of illegal fighting.
"This film will be hugely popular everywhere," predicted Maire.
Overall there are 15 Swiss feature films and 26 short films being shown in Locarno this year, slightly fewer than in previous years.
Directors and divas
Maire also highlighted the number of films directed by women – more than 20 works – at the festival this year, nevertheless showing that filmmaking still remains a male-dominated industry.
But women have always held their own in front of the camera. Locarno will therefore be paying homage to the greatest divas of Italian cinema since 1941, including the films of actresses Gina Lollobrigida, Sofia Loren and Monica Bellucci.
As usual, social and political issues are not neglected at Locarno. Several of the international competition films deal with difficult subjects, such as renditions of prisoners and modern slavery.
The Open Doors section, aimed at raising the profile of filmmaking in developing countries, is devoted to the Middle East.
But the past has not been totally forgotten. A retrospective, Back to Locarno, will feature some of the festival's gems and big discoveries of the past 60 years.
There will also be a big birthday party on Thursday, featuring many key personalities in the festival's history.
All this, Maire says, should combine to make this year's Locarno "the occasion for a great celebration of cinema".
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
The Locarno film festival, Switzerland's largest, runs from August 1-11. It is 60 years old this year.
It has been divided into five main sections: Piazza Grande, International Competition, Filmmakers of the Present Competition, Ici et Ailleurs and Leopards of Tomorrow. 80 films will be shown in these sections of which 20 are first films.
Among those receiving awards are Chinese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Leopard of Honour) as well as French actor Michel Piccoli and Spanish actress Carmen Maura (both Leopard of Excellence).
Last year's eventful festival
Artistic director Frédéric Maire, in his first Locarno, slimmed down the number of films and upped the number of new and low-budget works. His choices were generally well received.
The Golden Leopard was controversially won by Das Fräulein (The Waitress), by Swiss director Andrea Staka. One of the jury members had to step down after it emerged that she had co-written the film but hadn't considered it necessary to alert anyone to the fact.
Maire himself had to watch the final ceremony from his hospital bed, having previously collapsed on stage in front of 8,000 people.
Festival President Marco Solari said Maire was exhausted, but Maire later said he was suffering from food poisoning.
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