Europe takes its seat at Locarno film festival
The Locarno Film Festival has a distinctly European slant this year, as American films fall victim to the screenwriters' strike and a dip in independent filmmaking.
Also coming to the fore at the festival, which starts in the southern Swiss city on Wednesday, are films from other English-speaking nations, including Britain, Australia and Ireland.
Last year marked a strong return to the festival of Hollywood blockbusters and United States independent films, such as Hairspray starring John Travolta and Waitress by Adrienne Shelly.
This seemed to herald a change in direction for Switzerland's most established international film festival, which had up until then largely distanced itself from the all-powerful United States industry.
However, 2008 sees far fewer American productions in the international competition and on the Piazza Grande, the huge outdoor screen which forms the heart of the ten-day event.
Artistic director Frédéric Maire sees two main reasons. "The first is the screenwriters' strike in Hollywood which had caused rather a lot of changes at the studios," he said ahead of the festival.
"Some films have had delays and there are fewer big American studio films on the market," Maire told swissinfo.
The other reason is more worrying, according to Maire, as independent US cinema appears to be "stagnating a little". This was apparent at the Sundance Festival, the industry's barometer, he said.
"This year there were lots of average films, nice but nothing more, films which did not evoke a huge interest," explained Maire.
However, all is not lost. There are still three US films – last year there were nine - on the Piazza Grande. This includes Clark Gregg's Choke, described as a "gleeful adaption" of a novel by Chuck Palahniuk of Fight Club fame.
Its star actress, Anjelica Huston, was due to travel to Locarno to receive its Excellence Award, but had to cancel for personal reasons.
Other English-speaking nations are taking up the slack. The festival's opening film will be the eagerly awaited British film Brideshead Revisited starring Emma Thompson.
And Australia is represented by The Eternity Man, a film-opera on the founding of Sydney.
But for the main part, the Piazza Grande belongs to the French and Germans, with each country showing five films.
One highlight will certainly be Nordwand (North Face), a German, Austrian and Swiss co-production, retracing the tragic attempt to ascend the north face of the treacherous Swiss Eiger mountain in 1936.
The International Competition is also dominated by the Europeans. However, Lionel Baier will be aiming to keep alive Swiss hopes of winning a Golden Leopard with Un Autre Homme (Another Man), a satire on social climbing.
Ireland is represented with its first film in competition since 1982 with Kisses by Lance Daly.
Further afield, young directors from Latin America are also making their presence felt in the competition, with films dealing with the gap between rich and poor.
Indeed, many of the 2008 films have social and political themes.
"Often this is shown through the smallest common denominator, the family, or what is left of it – separated parents, prodigal children and marginalised people in a collapsing society," said Maire.
Particularly powerful on this topic will be März (March) - an Austrian film in the competition - about a village traumatised by the suicide of three young men.
Maire, in his penultimate festival before leaving to head the Swiss Film Archive, is confident that this year's Locarno will have something to please everyone.
After all, he says, the programme is intended to present productions in the best light possible as well as showcase upcoming directors - in keeping with Locarno's aim of being a festival of discovery.
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson
Locarno Film Festival
The 61st Locarno Film Festival runs from August 6-16.
The giant screen at the heart of the festival on the Piazza Grande is showing 20 films. There are 18 films in the international competition. In all, 380 movies, short and long, will be shown at the festival.
Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai will receive the Leopard of Honour, given to a major living director. The retrospective is devoted to cult Italian director Nanni Moretti.
The festival also includes other sections showcasing for example young directors and films with a human rights theme.
Swiss at Locarno
There are around 50 Swiss works showing at the festival. A highlight is Un Autre Homme, by Lionel Baier, which is in the international competition.
Three Swiss films are showing on the Piazza Grande: Marcello Marcello by Denis Rabaglia, Nordwand (a coproduction) by Philipp Stölzl, and Retouches, by Georges Schwizgebel.
Sitting on the jury is Dani Levy, a Swiss director who has made a career in Germany. He hit the headlines with his latest film, a controversial comedy about Adolf Hitler.
Swiss Cinema day, being held in honour of Swiss filmmakers, takes place on August 12.
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