Ahead of the awards ceremony at the Piazza Grande on Saturday evening, Olivier Père is very enthusiastic about his first outing as Locarno’s artistic director.

Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily, Père said that the experience of the past nine days had been “beyond my expectations. We worked very hard for 12 months to prepare the festival because we needed to re-organise and re-think it again and, most importantly for a festival, get the content.”

He admitted that he had not been completely sure how the industry, filmmakers or press would react to his programme, “but, finally, after some years, people in Locarno are talking again about the films in the competition, the tributes and the retro and particularly about the atmosphere.”

He stressed that he had not chosen films like Bruce LaBruce’s competition film L.A. Zombie or Christophe Honore’s Man At Bath to whip up gossip and scandal. “I am not interested in provocation or scandals, but rather in films that are unexpected.” Père explained. “Some people prefer to talk about the films they don’t like rather than the ones they do.”

In fact, the festival’s president Marco Solari was prompted to defend Père in a front-page column – “Festival, libertà ch’è si cara” - in the local newspaper La Regione Ticino on Thursday (Aug 12) after the critic Armando Dadò had lambasted the new artistic director for his programme.

“I am completely for the freedom of press and expression, but also for the freedom of an artistic direction in a festival,” Père commented.

He continued that “Locarno was a quiet, slow and nice, but not a daring festival in the past. Cinema is daring like life, so we should be open to all kinds of cinematic expression.“

“But I also want to be respectful to the identity of the festival with space for documentaries, experimentation as well as Swiss cinema and mainstream films on the Piazza Grande.”

“I have some new visions for the future but it is more about the content rather than the festival structure,” Père noted, pointing out that Journée de la Francophonie last Monday was a one-off and not planned as  a replacement for the previous Day of Swiss Cinema. The event had been staged as a curtain-raiser to a summit of 70 heads of state and government of the International Organisation of the Francophonie being held in Montreux from Oct 22-24.

This year’s Ernst Lubitsch retrospective - which was considered by many, particularly film critics, to be the highlight of the 2010 edition. Père said that, for the future, he likes “the idea of maintaining this tradition of presenting the history of cinema from the silent era to the classic age of cinema because Locarno is dealing with modern contemporary cinema, so you have to balance with something more classic.”

He revealed that the industry screenings within the newly created Industry Days would be held a day earlier next year – from Friday to Sunday (Aug 5-7) – and he agreed that care should be taken not to overload the programme with too many accompanying discussions and workshop events. “We have to make sure that we don’t create competition for our own events,” he said.

According to Nadia Dresti, head of the Industry Office, the screenings with the highest attendances – attracting film buyers and festival programmers alike – included Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale, The Edge (La Lisière), Monsters, White White World, and The Human Resources Manager.

This year saw the festival attract over 240 buyers, although, as is also the wont of the Berlinale’s European Film Market in its calculations of participants, the Locarno list of buyers included sales agents such Eric Lagesse, Michael Weber, Jean-Christophe Simon and Thorsten Ritter who may acquire titles for their lineups, but are not buyers in the strict sense of the word.

As of Friday August 13, the seven official competition films which had come to Locarno a week ago without a sales agent were still on the lookout for someone to represent them internationally.

Meanwhile, another innovation of Locarno’s 2010 edition – the Summer Academy – was a great success. As project manager Gregory Catella told ScreenDaily, almost 50 applications had been sent from around the world even though the deadline had been at such short notice after the announcement on July 15. He eventually decided to accept 30 instead of the originally planned 20 to attend workshops with filmmaker Maren Ade and her producer Janine Jackowski, casting director Beatrice Kruger and Cinefondation’s Georges Goldenstern.

The participants ranged in age from 21-year-old Lóránd Robert Márton, a second year student in cinematography and directing from Romania’s Cluj, to 34-year-old Italian video artist Eleanora Rossi and also included young filmmakers from as far away as Lebanon, the Philippines, US as well as Europe.

The participants valued the opportunity to network and make contacts amongst one another away from the hustle and bustle of one of the big film festivals like Cannes or Berlin, and there is distinct possibility that common projects may evolve from the Academy’s first intake in the future.

Moreover, the first awards were presented on Thursday evening by the independent film critics attending this year’s Locarno festival with the Boccalino D’Oro. The prize in best film category went to the Brazilian film Light In Darkness – The Return Of The Red Light Bandit (Luz Nas Trevas – A Volta Do Bandido) by Icaro C. Martins and Helena Ignez, while Romanian actress Ana Ularu picked up the award for best acting performance for Bogdan George Apetri’s Outbound (Periferic) which will be screening at the Toronto, Pusan and Thessaloniki film festivals. A special award was given Joseph McBride for curating the highly praised Ernst Lubitsch retrospective.

As in previous editions, the festival also served this year as the venue for the presentation of new ventures in the Swiss film industry.

Earlier in the week, family and friends of the actor-director Corso Salani, who sadly passed away in June at the age of 48, announced the setting up of a foundation to preserve his memory and provide financial support for young aspiring filmmakers. As a tribute to a longtime friend of the festival, Locarno organized special screenings of Salani’s 1996 film Gli Occhi Stanchi and the world premieres of two new shorts from the I Casi Della Vita series commissioned by the Italian electricity company Enel.

Moreover, the Zurich Master Class, a talent workshop organized by Zurich Film Festival with Swiss Television SF for up-and-coming filmmakers from Switzerland, Austria and Germany, unveiled the first names of the international experts invited to lead workshops. They will include US producer Brad Simpson, Austrian director Jessica Hausner, screenwriter Barry Gifford, and documentary filmmakers Jennifer Fox and Nenad Puhovski.