Locarno film festival bares its teeth

Cinema-goers and critics can expect an edgier Locarno Film Festival this year, the result of aggressive programming by outgoing artistic director Frédéric Maire.

This content was published on August 5, 2009 - 08:24

Maire is stepping down after three years at the helm and says he is leaving a slimmed down festival in his wake, with fewer but more "pertinent" films on show.

"We try to be the edgiest festival of the world. I think it's what Locarno is becoming now, and appreciated all over the world for. I think defending all kinds of films in Locarno is part of our DNA," he told swissinfo.ch.

There are 14 world premiers in the line-up for the 62nd Locarno Film Festival.

A Hollywood romantic comedy, 500 Days of Summer, and the Mongolian epic, The Two Horses of Genghis Khan, will open and close the festival on August 5 and 15.

Sandwiched in between will be retrospectives of Japanese animation and Chinese films, documentaries and a day devoted to Swiss works.

There are 18 films currently up for the international competition award and 37 short films in the running for Leopards of Tomorrow prizes.

Two gritty themes surface from this year's crop of films. Some works explore identity and migration issues, while others, such as the French comedy The Earth's Last Days, delve into humanity's troubled relationship with nature.

Pet project

The festival was also the last chance for Maire to put on a pet project, a Japanese animation retrospective called Manga Impact.

It includes features and short films, and features a talk by renowned director Katsuhito Ishii, who did the animation in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Vol.1 and created the hotly anticipated Redline flick, which get its world premier in Locarno. Maire says this film in particular is an indirect homage to the west and will serve as a bridge between west and east.

The festival also joined forces with the National Cinema Museum in Turin to put on an exhibition on the development of Japanese animation.

"We have talked about doing it for nearly three years," Maire said. "It was important to do now because I think we have arrived at a turning point in the history of Japanese animation.

"It is a good time to talk about everything Japanese animation has brought to the West and all that we, in the West, owe it. It says, 'let's dive in into this culture and try to help western audiences discover it in a more coherent and global way'."

Circus comes to town

Maire will be replaced in September by Olivier Père, artistic director of the Cannes' Directors Fortnight, but he is convinced that the festival will still stay true to its tradition of discovery.

"The Locarno festival has this tradition of discovery in its genes. It's one of the oldest festivals in the world but it has maintained this spirit [of renewal]."

He puts it down to the festival being like a circus, descending on the town of Locarno for two weeks every year. During that time, the Piazza Grande becomes home to the largest open-air film screen in Europe, attracting around 60,000 visitors.

"We arrive with the circus tent. We put it, we have fun and then we leave. We renew, we evolve permanently. Also it is a festival that has always attracted a young public. This provides the motivation and desire to present young cinema. And to defend new talent."

For his part, festival president Marco Solari says the growth of the annual budget in four years from SFr4 to SFr11 million ($3.7 to $10 million) is testimony to its increasing stature.

"Today we have a festival that is stronger than four years ago and that's all you can ask of an artistic director. A festival which is absolutely international."

Jessica Dacey, swissinfo.ch

Snapshot

Leopard of Honour – US director William Freidkin (French Connection, The Exorcist)

Rezzonico Prize for Best Independent Producer
- Martine Marginac (Le Pont du Nord, Ne Touchez Pas la Hache)

Excellence Award
- Italian actor Toni Servillo

Retrospective – Manga Impact – The World of Japanese animation

Piazza Grande – 13 feature films, 2 shorts, with 10 world premiers.

International Competition – 18 films (at last count) from 15 countries, with 14 world premiers

Leopards of Tomorrow
– 37 works selected

Ici & Ailleurs
- around 30 short and long works (of which 26 world premiers)

Open Doors
- focus 2009 on China

Swiss works – 27 selected for different arenas

Critics' Week
– 7 documentaries

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