Rain fails to dampen Locarno's spirits
Bad weather and a sometimes unpopular programme on the Piazza Grande meant that audience numbers were down at the Locarno film festival this year.
However, critics agreed that the main competition at Switzerland's most established film event was very strong, with the Mexican winner proving to be a well-liked choice.
The 61st festival ended on a high note on Saturday evening with clearer skies over the Piazza Grande and its giant outdoor screen – the traditional heart of the festival.
At the prize giving ceremony – which preceded the closing film Back Soon, a quirky Icelandic and French comedy - there was a good reception for Fernand Melgar, the Swiss winner of one of the smaller events, the Filmmakers of the Present competition.
Melgar, who won the award for his documentary about asylum seekers, loomed over the more diminutive figure of festival artistic director Frédéric Maire as he thanked the festival for its faith in his work.
Maire had, he revealed, accepted the piece when it was not yet finished. The final version was only delivered two days before the festival started.
Enrique Rivero, the young Mexican director who won the Golden Leopard in the main international competition for his film Parque Vía, also drew warm applause.
Rivero's victory came as no surprise to those attending the festival. "The best film has won," said Christian Jungen, film editor at the Mittelland Zeitung newspaper and a cinema scholar.
Jungen said that the film selection for the main competition was Maire's best so far.
Particularly strong, he said, was the Swiss entry, Un autre homme (Another Man) by Lionel Baier, a tale of a small town movie critic, which was "a declaration of love to the cinema".
"But I was disappointed by the Piazza programme, there were too many films which weren't made for the big screen and the numbers show that the audience thought the same thing," added Jungen.
This year there were only 56,700 admissions for the Piazza, compared with 68,100 in 2007.
Jungen flagged up fantasy epic Outlander as one example. The Viking-alien story, with its mindboggling special effects was perhaps, despite a charismatic leading performance by James Caviezel, an American actor of Swiss ancestry, not to everyone's taste.
The fact that temperatures had plummeted – maybe inspired by the fact that the movie was filmed in the chill of Nova Scotia – did not help either.
The weather was a big factor in Locarno this year. In all six out of 11 nights were affected by rain.
"We lose up to SFr40,000 ($36,000) per evening if it doesn't stop raining before five o'clock," festival president Marco Solari told Swiss radio, adding that the festival's finances were now almost "in the red".
However, speaking on the Piazza Grande on Saturday, Solari said that Locarno would continue to look forwards.
Future challenges also include finding a replacement for Maire, who is due to leave in 2009.
Lack of glamour
Also subject to debate is the event's lack of glamour, with an increasing number of voices – including the head of cinema at the Federal Culture Office – calling for more stars.
The festival, which takes place in a town in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, has so far decided against trying to compete with the likes of Cannes.
Indeed, Solari argues that part of the festival's charm comes from its emphasis on the filmgoer. Any big names remain approachable – Italian director Nanni Moretti, the subject of the retrospective, was this year spotted discussing movies with his fans in a local pizzeria.
For Jungen, it is possible to combine style and substance and for this, Emma Thompson, star of the opening film Brideshead Revisited, would have been ideal.
"She isn't just a glamour star but has something to say and has won an Oscar for screenwriting," he told swissinfo.
"These types of people should come to Locarno and talk about their films. Otherwise what is the added value for a festival in relation to an open-air cinema in some other town?"
swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Locarno
The Golden Leopard: Parque Vía, Enrique Rivero, Mexico
The Special Jury Prize: 33 Scenes from Life, Malgoska Szumowska, Germany/ Poland
Best direction: Denis Côté, Elle Veut Le Chaos, Canada
Best Actor: Tayanç Ayaydin, Market – a Tale of Trade, Germany/Britain/Turkey/ Kazakhstan
Best Actress: Ilaria Occhini, Mar Nero (Black Sea), Italy/ Romania/France
Special mentions: Liu Mang De Scheng Yan (Feast of Villains), by Pan Jianlin, China, and Daytime Drinking, by Noh Young-seok, South Korea
Locarno in figures
The festival ran from August 6-16.
According to initial statistics from the festival, the event was marked by a 4.8 per cent increase in attendance at the various cinema venues.
This compensated the drop in Piazza Grande attendances, which was largely due to the weather, said the festival.
Overall attendance was down by 3% this year on 2007.
A total of 372 films, including shorts, mid-length films and features were screened.
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