Journalist and film expert Claudia Laffranchi, affectionately known as the “Face of the Piazza Grande” after serving as host and master of ceremonies of Locarno Film Festival’s nightly open-air screenings for seven years from 2005 to 2011, has unexpectedly died at the age of 49.

Laffranchi, who was born and raised in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland Ticono, was found dead in her L.A. apartment by a friend on Tuesday afternoon (May 22).

She graduated with a Master’s degree in Languages and Literature from the University of Geneva and studied Film at Smith College in Northhampton (Massachusetts) before working for eight years for the Swiss national public broadcaster producing numerous documentaries and magazine features.

Upon moving to Los Angeles, Laffranchi worked for Swiss television and  various publications and also served as the Locarno Film Festival’s correspondent there.

In 2011, she received the 53rd Southern Californian Journalism Awards in the international category for an article entitled Time to Give about the humanitarian endeavours of movie stars.

For the past seven years, festival-goers to Locarno and filmmakers coming on stage to present their film to the Piazza Grande audiences were accompanied each evening by Laffranchi who effortlessly switched from one language to the next – she could speak English, Italian, French, German and Spanish – as she conducted mini-interviews with the films’ delegations before the screenings.

A comment by Helvetic.LA on Laffranchi’s untimely passing said that “she graced thousands of people with her presence, her beautiful smile, her wit and her humor – and was a great cheerleader for the Angeleno-Swiss community who encouraged and actively promoted young talent  and mingled among great Hollywood Stars with poise, class, style and grace.”

The Piazza Grande screenings in Locarno in future will never be the same without Laffranchi’s unique contribution.