In her first year as Locarno International Film Festival's new artistic director, Irene Bignardi has shown strong commitment to fresh and young cinema. Almost in diametric opposition to the Cannes festival's latest edition, which displayed the work of veteran auteurs, such as Manuel de Oliveira, Shohei Imamura, Jacques Rivette and Jean Luc Godard, the 54th edition of Locarno is short on world-renowned film-makers. In fact, no fewer than eight of the 19 entries in the international competition are first features by unknown directors.
Also differing from Cannes, which had a large number of Asian pictures, there are only two pictures from that region in the main line-up: South Korean entry The Butterfly (Nabi) by Mon Seong-Wook, and Hong Kong film-maker Tang Xiobai's Conjugation (Dong Ci Bian).
The UK industry, which was totally ignored by Cannes this year, has reason to rejoice too. Neil Hunter and Tom Hunsinger's The Lawless Heart, starring Douglas Henshall and Bill Nighy, will receive its world premiere in competition, while Alan Taylor's My Napoleon, starring the estimable Ian Holm, will be shown in the open air of the Piazza Grande Screenings.
On the other hand, the two US entries, John Singleton's Baby Boy, which opened to mixed reviews (and poor business), and Men Ong's Miss Wonton, which premiered in Sundance's Spectrum series and concerns the immigrant experience of a Chinese woman, are rather weak.
Shown outside competition is the computer-generated, technologically novel Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which is a major artistic and commercial disappointment in the US.
The vast majority of pictures in competition are European, with a particularly strong showing from France and Italy, including Gallic How I Killed My Father, from Anne Fontaine (who previously directed the well-received Dry Cleaning and Augustin, King Of Kung-Fu), with popular stars Charles Berling and Natacha Regnier, and Dominique Cabrera's Le Lait De La Tendresse Humaine.
Reflecting the strong ties of Bignardi, a former critic for La Repubblica, to the Italian industry, the festival will premiere Alberto Robdalli's Dervis, Antoinetta De Lillo's Non E Giusto and other Italian samples.
Overall, close to 30 features will world premiere in the three main sections: the competition, in which 15 of the 19 selections are world premieres; the Piazza Grande, which boasts a retrospective of the Coen brothers' Miller's Crossing and Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club, the latter as part of the Asian-American cinema retrospective; and Film-makers of the Present, which is mostly a video competition with films of various lengths, including shorts.
Among the eagerly-anticipated premieres in the Piazza Grande are Tim Burton's Planet Of The Apes, which will be shown just days after its US release, and The Cat's Meow, Peter Bogdanovich's first feature for eight years, which Lions Gate will distribute in the US. Based on Steven Peros' play (and now script), The Cat's Meow presents a speculation over a murder mystery that reportedly took place one weekend on William Randolph Hearst's yacht, involving Charlie Chaplin, Hearst's mistress Marion Davis and Thomas Ince.
Former Locarno programmer Marco Muller was often charged with favouring obscure, esoteric arthouse fare that had little life outside the festival. In contrast, Bignardi is very much oriented toward showcasing talent of the present - and the future