The 54th Locarno international film festival opened on Thusday with two newcomers guiding the 10-day event - Marco Solari, the festival's president and Irene Bignardi, its artistic director. Women will be playing a greater role in this year's festival.
Last year's Locarno film festival was marked by the departure of two personalities who had, over a decade, shaped what is arguably the Swiss cultural event with the biggest international standing.
One departure was tragic - Raimondo Rezzonico, a long-time sponsor and the festival's president from 1999 - died of a heart attack only weeks before the opening. The other was a surprise: Marco Müller, artistic director from 1992, made public his resignation a day before the close of the event.
The choice of Solari as Rezzonico's successor didn't come as a surprise. He has been a leading light both in the regional politics of canton Ticino and as initiator of socio-cultural events such as the 700th anniversary of the Swiss confederation in 1991.
It will be to Solari's credit if the festival's multi-million-franc budget, which threatened to grow out of control over the past years, can be reined in during the near future. He managed to persuade the cantonal government of Ticino to add substantially to its annual contribution, and solicited two additional and potent private sector sponsors for the festival.
More of a surprise was the appointment last year of Irene Bignardi, an Italian, as festival director. Many in the small world of Swiss cinema, who complained in the past that Locarno "neglected" the products of local film-making, would have preferred the post to go to a Swiss.
Bignardi, who won several prizes as a film critic, has said in interviews that she will continue to seek out films from young and unknown filmmakers, and from countries and cultures with a lesser-known history of cinema.
Bignardi was director of the Italian MystFest event from 1986 to 1989 and helped in the programming of the prestigious Venice film festival. She covered the Locarno festival as a journalist for many years and was a member of its jury in 1998.
Bignardi is the first female director of the festival, and team members who worked with her over recent months say that she has brought back the sense of humour and charm that befit a festival that likes to define itself both as leisurely and with a penchant for the artistic avant-garde.
In other ways, too, Bignardi, 54, has put a welcome feminist stamp on the festival. A woman leads each sector, from the official competition to video, seven of nine members of the official jury are female, and 7 of 19 films screened in the competition are the works of women film-makers.
by Markus Haefliger