This article originally appeared in
August 8, 2006
Locarno a more 'accessible' festival


LOCARNO, Switzerland -- Every new
artistic director puts the stamp of his or
her personality on the event they take
over. To see the changes in the 59th
Locarno International Film Festival under
first-year director Frederic Maire, it is not
necessary to look beyond the fest's
picturesque Piazza Grande, which is
screening films that would have been
almost unimaginable under predecessor
Irene Bignardi.

While Bignardi favored weighty and
intellectual fare on what organizers say
is Europe's largest open-air screen,
Maire chose to open this year's festival
Aug. 2 with the quasi-European premiere
of the blockbuster "Miami Vice" ("quasi"
because the film opened in England before
the Locarno screening). The festival's final
evening Saturday will feature the heralded family drama "Little Miss Sunshine,"
marking the first time anyone can remember that Locarno both opened and closed with
screenings of U.S. films.

Maire shies away from attempts to characterize his brief tenure using the goings on in
Piazza Grande. Instead, he says, he has simply clarified some of the lines between
films selected for screening in the Piazza Grande, in competition, and for some of the
sidebar events.

But there's no doubt about a trickle-down effect for other parts of the festival.
Organizers say attendance and ticket sales are up, even though there are only 170
films on tap compared with 225 a year ago.

Producers and distributors say there's even a change in atmosphere at the venerable
festival. "Let's just say Locarno has become more accessible," one U.S.-based buyer

Is that good or bad? The answer depends on who you talk to. Some complain that the
perception that Locarno may be transforming itself into a "lighter" event could work
against it if it means it may be taken less seriously in the future. Others opine that the
more inviting ambiance could mean it will end up highlighted on more players'
calendars in 2007.

Time will be the final judge. Many deals discussed in Locarno each year aren't
finalized until later, in Venice, Toronto, or beyond.

Several veteran producers and buyers, when asked about the major differences
between this year's festival and previous editions, answered with a simple "Check
back with me in a few weeks' time."

For his part, Maire -- the first Swiss national to run the festival since David Streiff left
in 1991 (Bignardi and her predecessor Marco Muller are both Italians) -- was
exhausted but happy halfway through his freshman effort.

"We have to remember that Locarno is not designed to be a forum for deals to be
made, though that obviously happens," he said, wiping sweat from his brow. "I think
our role is to be a scout for new talent, new trends. And I feel like we're continuing
that tradition quite nicely."
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Volume 77; Number 9
Volume 77; Number 9
Piazza Grande offered more mainstream fare
during the Locarno Festival's 2006 edition