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Real life intrudes at Locarno

Thousands of film lovers are expected on the Piazza Grande

(Keystone Archive)

Journalism and politics are the key themes at the 57th Locarno film festival, which got underway on Wednesday.

The opening night featured French film "Les fautes d’orthographe", a world premiere revisiting teenage angst in the 1970s, and an American film classic, "Sweet smell of success".

“The strong point of Locarno is its substance,” said festival director Marco Solari, adding that a balanced budget and healthy sponsoring means the festival can look forward with confidence.

This year’s line-up includes a tribute to the late Marlon Brando, as well as a number of films from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

The programme in the lakeside town in Ticino touches on several themes currently making the news, including the role of the media in politics.

The One of the highlights will be the festival’s retrospective which includes 91 feature-length and short films on journalism – both good and bad.

“Newsfront” is the brainchild of the festival’s artistic director, Irene Bignardi, herself a former journalist.

Embedded

“I felt that it was a sensitive subject, especially these days when we all see what’s happening in the world of the press. On one side it is very free and courageous, and on the other side ‘embedded’, as we have learned to say,” Bignardi told swissinfo.

Among the works to be shown are several classics such as “Citizen Kane” by Orson Welles and “The Dreyfus Affair” by Georges Méliès, which dates back to 1899.

Contemporary films will be represented by “Roger & Me”, an early work by the controversial director, Michael Moore, and the documentary “The Hunting of the President” which examines manoeuvres to bring down the former United States president Bill Clinton.

Current affairs is also a hot topic among the 18 international films in the running for the prestigious Golden Leopard award.

Bignardi says all these films, from 17 countries in 21 languages, explore the world as it is today.

“It’s really a Babel-like vision of the world,” explained Bignardi. “The world is difficult, and tolerance is the most important thing we can achieve through getting to know each other – and I think cinema can do a lot about that,” she added.

Short on Swiss

Ten Swiss feature films have been entered for the various awards in Locarno – a relatively small number.

Only one Swiss film, “Promised Land” by the Ticino-based director, Michael Beltrami, is competing in the international competition this year. Set in present-day America, the film tells the story of a failed actor's search for his identity.

Bignardi says the small number of Swiss films reflects the fact that 2003 was not a great year for local cinema, which has been struggling with a funding crisis for some time.

The Piazza Grande, traditionally the heart of the festival, will be showing all the films in the international competition – as well as many others – on its giant outdoor screen. There will also be several world premieres.

Tribute to Brando

Also scheduled is a special screening of the film “Queimada” as a tribute to Marlon Brando, who died last month.

The film was made in the 1960s when the actor chose to work on projects away from Hollywood.

“We chose a film that was less seen and one in which he is so fantastic – it’s actually one of his greatest interpretations,” said Bignardi.

Bignardi says she is particularly pleased about this year’s “Open Doors” section.

This part of the festival aims to put film-makers from developing countries in touch with international producers and will this year focus on the countries of the Mekong – Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.

A particular curiosity, Bignardi says, is that three of the 23 films included were made by the Cambodian King, Norodom Sihanouk, which give a very particular – and personal – view of his native land.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Locarno expects 200,000 visitors this year.
18 films from 17 countries are up for the Golden Leopard.
There are 91 films in the retrospective on journalism.
Ten feature films come from Switzerland, of which one is in the main competition.

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