The pains ofgrowing up were in abundant evidence this year in Locarno. And if this was notan intentional theme, it reflects the type of film the festival made itsselection from, according to at least two members of the selection committee.

A boy is abandonedby his father in Catarina Ruivo's Portuguese Andre Valente, an almost autistic German girl is put in anorphanage by her estranged mother in Ayse Polat's En Garde from Germany; a kid falls victim to the violent separationof his parents in Joachim Lafosse's Belgian PrivateMadness; the only son of an elderly Vietnamese couple is sent into themountains during the rainy season in Minh Nguyen-Vo's Vietnamese Buffalo Boy, while Serik Aprymov's The Hunter follows a foundling as hediscovers life's secrets in the wilderness of the Kazakh mountains.

There may benothing new in coming-of-age pictures, but given the number of award-winningfilms of this kind that have emerged in recent festivals (Nobody Knows and Comme UneImage in Cannes, Certi Bambiniand Leon y Olvido in Karlovy Vary),this may be more than just an accident.

Indeed, Locarnoseems to have done some growing up itself and stopped worrying about its placein the festival hierarchy and comparing itself with the likes of Cannes andVenice.

In what seems to bea wise decision, instead of entering a frantic race for the latest and fanciestitems on the market, Locarno, now in its fourth year under Irene Bignardi, hasmoved into a different arena and is playing a different kind of game.

Less of a noveltymarathon and more of a mammoth cross-cultural event, it deals with everythingfrom arts to the media, with cinema as the common denominator, challengingtopical issues of the day and highlighting them through films.

Changing attitudeshas its downside - Locarno is less likely to initiate industry trends; fewersignificant deals are signed on the Piazza Grande and no blockbusters arelikely to break through there. On the other hand, its programme invites earnestobservations on cinema and the world, that one rarely finds at more traditionalevents.

This may explainwhy Locarno's star evaluation differs from the norm. Normally, Dustin Hoffmanwould have been the natural choice of guest for the screening of All The President's Men, one of the mostprominent items of the massive "Newsfront" retrospective. Instead, Locarnochose to invite famed American journalist Carl Bernstein, whom Hoffman playedin the film.

Similarly,"Newsfront", the 91-title programme on the media as presented in films,featured two round tables discussions, which were among the most popular eventsin the whole festival. And no one seemed to be bothered by the fact that thesecond of these panels did not include anyone from the film industry.

Certainly, thecompetition this year had no banner film like last year's Spring, Summer,Autumn, Winter 'and Spring, which later became an art house must around theworld (though it went unrewarded in Locarno). With the possible exception ofthe much grittier and provocative Private, it was the Piazza Grandeselection which will be remembered, in particular audience favourite TheSyrian Bride, the raucous Spanish comedy Only Human, VolkerSchloendorff's grim confrontation of Church and Gestapo, The Ninth Man,and the bitter-sweet coming-of-age opening night film BAD SPELLing.