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Locarno, the magic begins again

Moving pictures illuminate Locarno's Piazza Grande during the film festival Keystone

Visitors like it because of its party atmosphere. For the industry, it’s less important than Cannes, Venice and Berlin… but Locarno is still Locarno.

This content was published on August 6, 2003 - 18:15

From August 6-16 in the magical Piazza Grande the 56th Locarno International Film Festival will take place with a more varied programme than ever before.

“Every festival has its market, but the discoveries which a festival like Locarno tries to make are not particularly important to the film market.” The plain-speaking author of this statement is Daniel Hitzig, presenter of Filmclub, a cinema programme on Swiss-German television.

“For instance, a Taiwanese director who wins the Golden Leopard in Locarno is already forgotten the next day. Obviously he’ll still have his career. But from the industry’s point of view, the festival and competition are not important.”

Artistic value

“Festivals like Cannes, Venice and Berlin are the ones that count. For the cinema, it’s the commercial side which is all-important, whereas this festival is more concerned with the artistic value of the films,” says Hitzig.

A view only partly shared by Antonello Catacchio, film critic of the Italian daily newspaper "Il Manifesto", who knows the Locarno Festival well:

“For a festival like Locarno, which does not concentrate on prestigious and established directors, the programme is always something of a mystery.

I believe this year’s selection contains a number of surprises. Then there are the retrospectives, offering a range of cinema classics which are always worth seeing again."

This year, perhaps more than in previous years, there is a shortage of American blockbusters.

“I'm not sure whether this is a good thing or a bad thing," says Catacchio. “Recently, in my opinion, a lot of the American films on show have been poor.”

Wide spectrum

The fact that Locarno widens the spectrum of the cinema, offering many examples of other forms of artistic expression (jazz, for example this year) is, for Catacchio, one of the Festival’s most important features.

“It has to have its own identity, also because the Cannes Festival, the world’s richest and most influential, was mediocre this year.

Locarno, on the other hand, is right to be innovative and to encourage research into new authors and little-known film-makers, and to package it all with a whole range of other offerings,” adds Catacchio.

“I have always been astonished at the people who come to the Locarno Festival. There are a large number of enthusiasts – young people in particular – who come in search of the works of unknown film-makers and authors. “

Holiday atmosphere

Samir, a Swiss film-maker and producer, four of whose films are on show in Locarno this year, stresses the holiday atmosphere of this festival in Ticino.

Compared to film festivals of a similar size, such as Rotterdam and San Sebastian, Locarno has the advantage of taking place in the middle of summer.

“Locarno isn’t a business festival," says the Iraqi-born Swiss director. “People come here to enjoy themselves, and this in turn is good for the film business.”

Also, in Locarno, you can meet people from the international film industry who are here on holiday – people who would not attend other festivals.

How important is it for a Swiss film to be shown at Locarno?

“There aren’t many festivals in Switzerland with any visibility abroad. There’s the Nyon International Documentary Film Festival, but Solothurn [with its “Film Days”] is a purely domestic event,” says Samir.

“Alternative” cinema

So, for Samir, coming to Locarno means helping Swiss cinema to become better known abroad.

“Obviously, Locarno is less important for foreign producers, who want to go to Cannes, Venice or Berlin. Locarno is more in competition with the festivals of Rotterdam and San Sebastian.”

Locarno is carrying on a tradition, dating from the 1980s, of offering “alternative” cinema.

However, the artistic director, Irene Bignardi, has introduced an important change. Previously, in Locarno a director could only exhibit his first, or possibly his second film.

“Jim Jarmusch and Atom Egoyan made their name in Locarno in this way,” says Samir.

Now, this restriction has been lifted. According to Samir, this provides more freedom of choice during the selection process. On the other hand, it could be detrimental to the essential nature of the festival.

But, concludes Samir, with Bignardi having been at the helm of the Festival for only two years, it’s still too early to say.

swissinfo, Raffaella Rossello and Hansjörg Bolliger (translation: Susan Worthington)

Key facts

The 56th Locarno Film Festival runs from August 6-16 2003.
8 sections:
International competition: 19 feature-length fiction films
Video competition: video or digital productions
Piazza Grande: entertainment films.
Film-makers of the present: the most experimental films.
The leopards of tomorrow: young talents.
Critics’ week: 7 documentaries selected by the Swiss Association of Film Journalists.
Swiss films: offering the best of Swiss film-making to international purchasers.
Retrospective: Cinema and Jazz.

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