'We had difficulties in the past to show European films, but this year we were spoilt for choice,' said Locarno's Frederic Maire in an interview with ScreenDaily.com ahead of today's announcment of the programme for his third outing as artistic director.
Two-thirds of the Piazza Grande open-air programme hails from Europe, ranging from Hannes Stoehr's Berlin Calling through Anne Fontaine's La Fille De Monaco to Andreas Prochaska's In 3 Tagen Bist Du Tot 2 alongside such large-scale projects as Philipp Stoelzl's Alpine drama North Face (Nordwand) and Alessandro Baricco's intriguing investigation of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, Lezione 21.
Similarly, around two-thirds of the lineup for this year's International Competition comes from Europe, including the first Polish film in this section for more than 25 years - Malgorzata Szumowska's 33 Scenes From Life. Another country returning to the section is Ireland, with Lance Daly's Kisses.
'Interestingly, we haven't had as many UK films in Locarno as this year for some time,' Maire explained, pointing to the opening film Brideshead Revisited as well as Garth Jennings' Son of Rambow and Ben Hopkins' The Market, among others.
The decision by Edinburgh this year to bring its dates forward to the second half of June from the traditional position after Locarno was a new challenge for Maire and his programmers. 'We had thought that films might go to Edinburgh instead of coming to Locarno,' he recalled, 'but that it would also give us a chance to pick up some new British films. This was the case with Gideon Koppel's documentary Sleep Furiously which we had known about before [the world premiere in] Edinburgh. In the end, [the new dates] didn't turn out to be a problem.'
According to Maire, 'while the focus for Open Doors is on Latin America this year, we hadn't made a conscious decision to select films for the programme to complement this event.'
Nevertheless, many Latin American films were programmed in the festival's various sections 'because the reality of the production is incredible. There are many interesting films coming from this region and we have films from countries like Chile, Guatemala and Peru which don't have such a high international profile.'
They range from Josue Mendez's Dioses (Peru) and Enrique Rivero's Parque Via (Mexico) in the International Competition through Esteban Larrain's Alicia En El Pais (Chile) and Kika Goifman's Filmefobia (Brazil) in the Filmmakers of the Present competition to Julio Hernandez Cordon's Gasolina (Guatemala) and Diego Lerman's Servicios Prestados (Argentina) in the Here & Elsewhere sidebar.
At the same time, though, there are fewer US films in Locarno this year. While the 2007 edition saw seven US productions screening in the nightly open-air screenings and two US titles in the International Competition, Maire has only three US films for the Piazza Grande - the European premieres of Marcos Siega's Chaos Theory and Clark Gregg's Choke and the world premiere of Howard McCain's Outlander - and no US participation in the International Competition (North America is represented by French Canadian Denis Cote's Elle Veut Le Chaos).
'There was a real problem with American films,' Maire noted. 'It was something already apparent at Sundance where not many films were picked up this year. It was difficult to find strong US indie films on a par with the titles we had had in the past like Half Nelson or Waitress. Another factor was the WGA strike which resulted in the moving of a lot of releases for the bigger films, so it was harder to get these studio films for Locarno.'
Among the common threads running through this year's programme Maire identified 'social reality and conflicts, especially in Western society, such as in Maerz where three 20somethings in a Tyrolean village decide to commit suicide by gassing themselves in their car the life of dysfunctional families in Kisses. The same situation can be seen in Katia's Sister by Mijke de Jong where three women are living together: the mother is a prostitute, one daughter is a striptease dancer, and the younger 12-year-old daughter is trying to be like her big sister.'
'A second strand focuses on conflicts between man and nature,' Maire continued. 'This ecological reflection shows that Al Gore has certainly made an impression on contemporary cinema with films as diverse as Laila Pakalnina's Three Men And A Fish Pond, Gideon Koppel's creative documentary Sleep Furiously or Jacqueline Veuve's Un Petit Coin de Paradis in Here & Elsewhere '
In keeping with Locarno's tradition of searching for new talents, the festival can boast numerous feature debuts by such filmmakers as Korea's Noh Young-seok (Daytime Drinking), Turkey's Ozcan Alper (Autumn), Argentina's Paulo Pecora (El Sueno Del Perro), Japan's Koki Yoshida (Symptom X), and Italy's Federico Bondi (Mar Nero).
No less than two-thirds of the International Competition's lineup will be world premieres - from 33 Scenes From Life by Poland's Malgorzata Szumowska to Feast of Villains by China's Pan Jian Lin -, while half of the Piazza Grande's programme is made up of world premieres and 11 of the 15 films in the Filmmakers of the Present competition are being shown for the very first time.
Moreover, new films by DoP Christophe Farnarier (A Dream), Gianfranco Pannone (Il Sol Dell'Avvenire), Dominique de Rivaz (Luftbusiness), Yasmin Ahmad (Muallaf) and Doerte Franke (Stolperstein) are among 19 world premieres in Here & Elsewhere.
That sidebar will also present the latest three digital shorts commissioned by the Jeonju Digital Project from three African filmmakers Mahamat-saleh Haroun (Expectations), Nacer Khemir (The Alphabet Of My Mother) and Idrissa Ouedraogo (The Birthday).
The full line-up of films for Locarno's 61st edition can be found at www.pardo.ch.