The Locarno International Film Festival's 56th edition kicked off last night, on a scorching, hot and humid summer night, with a brand new print of Vincente Minelli's evergreen musical The Band Wagon.

The opening, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the film made by a director born 100 years ago, faithfully augured the spirit of the entire festival for this year.

It's spirit that saw no stars on stage for the first gala, or for that matter in any of the juries, and sees the festival relying not on glamour but on serious programming work for its appeal.

Thus, the world of jazz is being explored in an extensive 116 titles retrospective, from The Jazz Singer to Woody Allen's Sweet And Lowdown. A second sidebar of similar size is dedicated to Human Rights.

The Piazza Grande programme, the festival's showcase and its main drawing power for local audiences, includes six tributes - from Frederico Fellini to Katharine Hepburn through Franco Brusati to special events honoring British director Ken Loach and Swiss producer Ruth Waldburger and Matthew Barney's Cremaster III (Barney's other four parts of these series are screened in a separate section).

19 films screen in competition, 18 of them world premieres. There are also an equal number of selections in the video competition, and Locarno's other traditional programmes, such as the "Cinema of the present" survey of world cinema, "The Leopards of Tomorrow", dedicated to young filmmakers.

Put together, this is probably not only the most challenging of her programmes, as Bignardi herself defines it, but also the riskiest, to quote an often-mentioned opinion around town.

How pleased the public and the Swiss press will be about it, remains to be seen. The local previews for the event have voiced a number of reserves about the programme and the opening night, while playing to a goodish crowd, was relatively subdued.

The festival itself, however, seems to be fully behind it, judging by the compliments showered on Bignardi all through the opening ceremony. It's a hint that Bignardi, who is coming to the end of her original contract and is rumoured in certain quarters to be eyeing Venice for her next assignment, would be more than welcome to stay on.