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Locarno Festival's new boss prepares to make her mark

Irene Bignardi is the first woman to head up the Locarno film festival Keystone Archive

Preparations are in full swing for this year's Locarno film festival, under the guidance of its first ever woman director, Italy's Irene Bignardi. Tom O'Brien found out how she intends to make her mark on Switzerland's top film extravaganza.

This content was published on June 20, 2001 - 07:50

Bignardi was in Zurich recently to announce her selection of 12 films for the Zurich-based Filmpodium Festival. But she was giving little away about the line-up for Locarno, which kicks off in early August.

She would only say that this year's festival would include highlights from Asia and South America. "I tried not to be seduced by [Asian] cinema because I have the feeling that it has already been discovered," she said. "But their work has such an enormous richness. The other thing I've discovered is that there is a new wave of films coming out of South American cinema."

The programme for Locarno will be announced in mid-July, and until then the list of films and the names of this year's jury are a closely guarded secret.

However, Bignardi said that as a regular visitor to the festival in past years, she knew what cinema fans wanted to see. "I want to make the best possible choice for the cinema lovers of Locarno. I have been part of that crowd and it's really wonderful."

Italian born Bignardi, who took over from Marco Müller last November, is regarded as one of Europe's foremost film critics. As to what she intends to do with the festival in the future, she said she would be brainstorming ideas with colleagues and putting the best of them into practice.

"The structure of the festival [is likely] to stay the same, at least for this year. I'll decide what happens after that after talking with my colleagues. I'm across everything - the festival will be a portrait of my loves and hates."

Locarno is as much about the cinemagoers who attend the festival as it is about the stars in the films. Its appeal lies in the fact that it caters to people who want to see the best that cinema has to offer, rather than just being a publicity event for films prior to their commercial release.

Bignardi's passion for cinema started early, although she claims not to be as passionate as some. "I'm not as extreme as my colleagues because I want to enjoy many different passions in my life. But certainly cinema has had a very important role in my life personally and professionally.

She said the festival this year would also be focusing more on video and digital films, with a separate jury judging awards in this category. "We are giving more attention to these films and the festival is also changing through what is coming from the outside."

What if anything can we tell about Irene Bignardi from her choice of films for the "carte blanche programme" at the Filmpodium Festival?

Among the highlights are "The Full Monty", George Lucas's "American Graffiti "and an Iranian film called "Where is the House of my Friend". All of the films chosen have at one time or another been screened at the Locarno Festival.

"I like things that say something precise, especially about people," she explained. "Also I'm more on the popular side of the line of taste rather than on the apocalyptic."

The 54th Locarno International Film Festival runs from August 2 to 20.

by Tom O'Brien

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