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Pakistani film takes top honours at Locarno

Pakistani director, Sabiha Sumar, lifts the Golden Leopard award she received for her film "Khamosh Pani" Keystone

“Khamosh Pani” (Silent Water) by the Pakistani director, Sabiha Sumar, has won this year’s Golden Leopard for best film at the Locarno festival.

This content was published on August 16, 2003 - 20:43

Switzerland also celebrated success, with “iXième, Journal d’un Prisonnier” sharing top prize in the best video category.

The 56th Locarno film festival reached its climax on Saturday with an awards ceremony on the Piazza Grande and resounding applause for Sumar’s movie – her debut feature film.

"This is the first film of its kind to be entirely made in Pakistan," Sumar said after scooping her award. "It's a miracle of a film, it really is."

One of Locarno’s strengths is the emphasis it places on providing a platform for young talent, and the winning director maintains the festival definitely lived up to its tradition of giving new directors much-needed international exposure.

“Locarno gives us the opportunity to show our work and to discuss it, and for it to go places from here,” she told swissinfo.

“It’s really a starting point for a film, and the measure of success is how the film is received here, so I think it’s a good springboard to take off into the world,” she added.

Sumar’s sensitive tale of the fate of a woman and the political developments in Pakistan over the last 20 years beat off some strong rivals in a competition that included 19 films from 17 different countries.

Most notable among them was the critically acclaimed “Maria” from Romania, which received standing ovations during its screenings.

The Calin Netzer-directed film won the jury’s special prize.

Another popular choice, the Bosnian film “Gori Vatra” (Burning Fire) picked up a Silver Leopard, as did “Thirteen” from the United States.

Swiss success

Although there was no mention for the only Swiss film in the main competition,“Au Sud des Nuages” by Jean-François Amiguet, Swiss film-makers did not go home empty-handed.

Pierre-Yves Borgeaud and Stéphane Blok’s “poetic video diary” of a man under house arrest shared the Golden Leopard for best video with the Argentinian film “Cantata de las Cosas Solas”.

There was also a Swiss flavour to the film that won the award for the most popular film with the public screened at the open-air Piazza Grande - German director Sönke Wortmann’s “Das Wunder von Bern”.

Set in 1954 – the year when the World Cup finals were played in the Swiss capital – the film tracks the story of a boy who is a "lucky mascot" for one of the German team in the build-up to the final.

Piazza Grande

But the reaction to some of the films on offer over the ten days was mixed, and both before and during the festival, the artistic director, Irene Bignardi, came under fire for the choice of films scheduled for screening at the Piazza.

Many felt the big American blockbusters of last year were missing, and the public was being offered too many retrospectives.

But Bignardi defends her decisions and says the reaction of the public to the showing of nine premieres and five classic films certainly seemed to back her up.

“More than 6,700 people came to the Piazza to see Fellini’s ‘Casanova’,” she told swissinfo.

“It shows that the public appreciated the exceptional chance to see a masterpiece in the best conditions and not as we see them now all the time on the small screen, or in a reduced or deformed format.”

Bignardi was also adamant that the mix of old and new films throughout the ten days was a reflection of the diversity of films the festival had to offer.

“Cinema is made not only of the future but also of its past - its memory and its classics,” she said.

Bignardi’s view was shared by young Swiss film-maker, Luke Gasser, whose film “Fremds Land” was screened at the festival’s special section to promote Swiss films.

“I’m a real fan of not having a yesterday and a today at a festival, but instead in mixing it all up,” he told swissinfo.

“It’s very important to bring older movies into a new context – that’s great and I think they fit very well into the programme,” he added.

The weather also played its part in the success of this year’s festival.

Locarno was spared the rain of recent years and instead enjoyed the same record-breaking daytime temperatures and balmy evenings as the rest of Switzerland – putting paid for the moment at least to any discussion of the need to cover the Piazza.

Full programme

The festival offered more than 400 films and videos to choose from as well as a wealth of special sections.

One showed films dealing with human rights issues, and another provided a platform for Cuban-made films.

There were also special sections for films from Argentina, Afghanistan and Scandinavia.

An important theme accompanying this year’s festival was music – and in particular jazz, with special concerts often continuing into the early hours of the morning.

At times though the choice may have appeared a little too large for the average visitor to be able to grasp an overview.

But Bignardi insists both the festival and visitors can cope with such diversity, although she admits that it would probably be a mistake to expect too much growth in future years.

“I think the festival has reached its top according to the structures and forces we have,” she said.

“It will continue as it is without growing any more – maybe making things even better if possible and not expecting too much from the future except quality things.”

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton in Locarno

Key facts

Best film: “Khamosh Pani” (Silent Water), Pakistan.
Best actor: Serban Ionescu, “Maria”, Romania.
Best actress – joint winners:
Kirron Kher, “Khamosh Pani"; Diana Dumbrava, “Maria”; Holly Hunter, “Thirteen”, USA.
Best Video – joint winners:
“iXème, Journal d’un Prisonnier ”; Switzerland, “Cantato de las Cosas Solas”, Argentina.
Public Prize for best film shown at the Piazza Grande: “Das Wunder von Bern”, Germany.
Around 190,000 visitors attended this year's festival.

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