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Locarno film festival opens in grand style

The festival opened with the screening of Bryan's Singer's "X-Men" Keystone

The 53rd international film festival in Locarno has begun with 10,000 enthusiasts crowding into the spectacular Piazza Grande for the screening of the opening film "X-Men" directed by Bryan Singer.

This content was published on August 2, 2000 - 08:58

The festival, which attracted an audience of 180,000 last year, has a budget of SFr4.5 million - a tiny sum compared to Europe's three biggest festivals: Berlin, Cannes and Venice.

However, the town's main square, surrounded by Renaissance façades, seats 10,000, making it one of the world's biggest open-air cinemas during the festival. About 200 productions will be shown in six cinemas and other venues, including the historic Piazza Grande with its giant open-air screen.

Eighteen films from 14 countries are competing in the official competition this year. For the first time, the competition has been restricted to films which have never been screened before, or only screened in their native countries.

This year's festival has been overshadowed by the sudden death two weeks ago of its president, Giuseppe Buffi. Buffi, who assumed overall control of the festival only last year, was instrumental in putting the 10-day-event on a more professional footing.

The measure was one of Buffi's attempts to curtail the growth of the festival while at the same time making it artistically more relevant.

France, Germany and Portugal each have two entries in the competition for the Golden Leopard award. Other films come from Austria, Britain, Brazil, China, Georgia, Hong Kong, Italy, Iceland, Japan, and Vietnam. The US entry will be Michael Almereyda's adaptation of Shakespeare's "Hamlet". There will also be a surprise film, which will only be made public during the festival.

For the first time, no Swiss film has made it into the main competition. "Azzurro", a film based on a story of Italian-Swiss immigration and directed by the Valais-born Denis Rabaglia, was withdrawn at the last minute without explanation. It will be shown in the Piazza Grande as the traditional final screening following the festival prize presentations on August 12.

Many critics view the absence of a Swiss entry as proof that Switzerland's film industry is in crisis. Switzerland's francophone film-makers are particularly up in arms.

On Wednesday, the country's French-speaking cinema association launched a two-pronged initiative aimed at boosting French-Swiss cinematography. The project would involve the creation of a SFr2 million a year regional funding scheme ("Régio"), and the doubling of the government's SFr7.5 million subsidy.

Because the public funds ran dry mid-year - and several projects had to be abandoned before the festiva - the association not only wants more money, but insists the funds be more professionally managed.

Younger filmmakers can take heart, though - the "Tomorrow's Leopards" competition for short films features 18 works by young filmmakers from Switzerland.

There will also be a strong Swiss presence in the documentaries section, with 10 films from Switzerland. And a further eight productions, which were screened commercially in the past year, will be shown in the "Appellation Suisse" section. The national film archive Cinématheque in Lausanne has unearthed four Swiss films from the 1920s and 30s, too.

Some of the entries are likely to arouse controversy, especially "Baise-Moi" by French director Virginie Despentes. A road-movie-cum-porn film, it was banned from French cinemas earlier this year. More mainstream audiences will be able to enjoy the offerings from filmmakers such as the Dutch Hollywood director, Paul Verhoeven, who made "Basic Instinct".

The major attraction for specialist audiences and film buffs will be a treasure trove of 57 Soviet films made between 1926 and 1968. Many haven't been seen since they were first screened, and some will be shown publicly for the first time in their original version, untouched by the censors' scissors.

One potential problem for this year's festival could be the weather. According to forecasts, the first days of the festival could see the usual mass flights from the Piazza Grande, but the situation should improve during the second week.

Next year, the festival will have an alternative 10,000-seat open-air cinema, in the nearby Piazza Castello, which will be covered with a temporary tent-like structure. This was another idea of Buffi's, who sadly will not see the result of his innovations.

by Markus Haefliger

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