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New Locarno director sets out his vision

A new era will be starting at Locarno under Frédéric Maire (Locarno Film Festival)

The Locarno film festival's new artistic director, Frédéric Maire, says he will make some changes to the festival.

In an interview with swissinfo, Maire said he was aiming to put films back at the heart of the event.

Maire's appointment was announced on Sunday. He takes over from Italian journalist Irene Bignardi who is leaving after five years to take a breather and concentrate on other projects.

Maire, who hails from Neuchâtel, started his career by making short films. He also worked as a film critic.

The fluent Italian-speaker is already well-known at Locarno. He worked in the press office in the 1980s and 1990s and was later a member of the programming commission.

Maire is also a co-founder of La Laterna Magica (The Magic Lantern), a film club for children.

swissinfo: How does it feel to be the new artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival?

Frédéric Maire: Obviously I'm very happy. I've worked a lot for this festival and with [previous directors] Irene Bignardi, Marco Müller and David Streiff. But I'll nevertheless be like a young student learning what a festival is and where Locarno is in the world of festivals.

For me Locarno is a special festival because it's easy for filmgoers to meet the director, to discuss with him or go for a drink with him - this informality is something very special. Locarno is also the festival of tomorrow – it shouldn't rival the Berlin, Cannes or Venice film festivals but it should be separate, a festival which shows films which might later appear at these festivals.

swissinfo: What are your plans for the festival? Will you be making any changes?

F.M.: We have to find a sort of continuity after the David Streiff, Marco Müller and Irene Bignardi eras. We don't want to cut out the past and start something new. For me what's important is to follow the path these directors have started.

I will change some things but the Piazza Grande and the competition will remain as they are.... the choices to be made are more on the film side. We want to make films central to the festival and everything else has to grow from the film. This means not debating a topic because it's interesting, but if it arises in a film we could use it to start a debate.

swissinfo: What do you see as the main challenges of your new job?

F.M.: There are probably a lot! One of the first challenges will be to reconnect the relationship with the film distributors. They are a bit angry with the festival at the moment so I hope we can talk and build a new relationship with them.

I think it's really important to have the distributors at the festival because they are more or less doing the same job as us - choosing films to show to an audience. So if we are doing the same job, why not try to work as much as possible together?

swissinfo: Will departing director Irene Bignardi be a hard act to follow?

F.M.: Irene Bignardi works as a journalist, a critic, a writer... she's a great cinematic figure. She also has a lot of charisma, when you meet her you feel she's living for film and for what she believes in.

Maybe I don't always like the same films she does, so probably I'll change some things because we don't have the same taste, but that's normal.

However, we talk a lot about glamour in the festival and I think the best glamour the festival has had under Bignardi is Bignardi herself. She was and still is the glamour of Locarno.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno

In brief

Frédéric Maire was born in Neuchâtel in 1961 to a Swiss father and an Italian mother. He is married with one daughter.

He started off as a director of short films and as a film journalist. He later worked for the Locarno Film Festival and co-founded La Laterna Magica, a film club for children in 1992.

Maire will take up his Locarno post on October 1 this year. He is on a three-year renewable contract.

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