Locarno copes with success

The Locarno film festival attracts many visitors, giving the local tourist business a boost Schweiz Tourismus

Every summer as Locarno plays host to the world's film industry, the provincial Ticinese town's population swells almost tenfold.

This content was published on August 10, 2002 - 11:20

This year the 15,000 locals have rubbed shoulders with cinematographic legends such as Sidney Pollack, directors, film buffs, critics and journalists from around the world.

Organisation is a tall order but, says Michael Schandroch, director of tourism, there is no denying the impact the festival has on the town - and a welcome one at that.

"The people of Locarno spend much of the year waiting for the festival, says Schandroch. " It's their festival and it draws them out of their provincial lifestyle for almost two weeks every year.

"When it's over, we have a sort of a hole. Everyone is sad, life becomes quieter and it coincides with a slowdown in tourism as the peak holiday season draws to a close."

Economic boost

The festival has an enormous economic, cultural and social impact on the town.

Even though Locarno is a popular tourist destination from March to October, the festival is the highlight of the year. Schandroch says some local businesses can make half their annual earnings during the two weeks, and hotels rely on being fully booked.

He says Locarno's larger neighbours look on enviously at the film festival, which provides such an important boost to the town and its surrounding communities.
Just as important is the publicity Locarno gets from hosting the festival. "It gives us a media presence that we just couldn't afford if we had to pay for it," he says.

Growing pains

The festival has grown over the years and logistics have often presented the biggest problem. "Simply coping with increased visitor numbers and people getting around the town has been a challenge," says Schandroch.

With an estimated 170,000 people attending the festival, including day visitors from nearby town and cities, there is a demand for growth. Many venues have had to turn people away and organisers have been forced to show second screenings to cope with the interest.

Growth will mean change, but Schandroch is not frightened that it will damage the character of the town.

"The festival forces the town to improve its infrastructure - which in any case is vital for Locarno's future development," he says.

Cinema Piazza Grande

A major feature of the festival is the nightly open-air screenings in the centre of the town - the Piazza Grande.

Plans are made well in advance and work starts on raising the giant screen and building the stage in early July. Over the years the town's residents and businesses have learned to cope with limited vehicle access in the period leading up to, and during the festival.

"They are used to it," says Schandroch. "The conversion is like a well-oiled machine and the 8,000 chairs and giant screen have become part of the scenery."

Not even bad weather can dampen the spirit of the town during the festival. This year once again the weather has been particularly unkind to the organisers, and some screenings have had to be moved indoors at the last minute.

Even though Schandroch admits that there have been calls to cover the Piazza during the festival, nothing has been done yet.

"You would think it would be a problem," he says. "But many of the filmgoers simply don't seem to care when they're sitting in the Piazza - they have become almost weatherproof."

by Jonathan Summerton in Locarno

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