The Locarno International Film Festival (Aug 5-15) is burnishing its reputation for distinctive arthouse and indie programming with a line-up filled with tales of the unexpected.

Frédéric Maire makes his exit as artistic director of the Locarno film festival this year with his fourth selection, a typically Locarno-like mix of arthouse, indie and the unusual: some of the more commercially intriguing items include the Larrieu brothers’ take on Hollywood disaster movies; a Weeping Camel director’s trip through Mongolia; Claude Miller’s Marching Band; and a deluge of Japanese animation.

“We know Olivier Pere will defend the same kind of cinema and the Locarno tradition”

Frederic Maire, Locarno

Next year, outgoing Cannes Directors’ Fortnight head Olivier Pere will take over from Maire. “We’ve struggled with Olivier over the same titles as competitors, so we know he will defend the same kind of cinema and the Locarno tradition,” says Maire, who is going on to head the Swiss Cinematheque. Pere officially starts at Locarno at the end of this year’s festival.

Locarno, a fairly prosperous event with a $10.2m (chf11m) budget, stands out among festivals because of its unique Piazza Grande screening location: 10,000 open-air seats every night in the town’s beautiful main square. Films playing there - notably the premiere of The Lives Of Others in Maire’s first year - make an impact.

But Locarno’s buzz has often stopped here and the more left-of-field International Competition has struggled to make an impact. (Although Locarno this year has dropped its experimental sidebar Play It Forward, it still has a yen for the avant garde as demonstrated in its Filmmakers of the Present and Leopards of Tomorrow competitions - it will screen two feature films shot entirely on mobile phones, for example.) Pitching itself as a festival of discovery - although most festivals would lay claim to that distinction - Locarno has evidently been given a boost by a weakened Edinburgh’s move to a June date, but it still programmes into the jaws of Venice, Toronto and San Sebastian, making Italian and Spanish titles particularly hard to secure.

Maire says the sales success of previous festival winners has “made it easier for us to get the films we definitely wanted this year”, saying he issued firm invites - and received firm commitments - much earlier than usual.
There is certainly a palpable industry presence at Locarno, given it takes place in the heart of European holiday season (August 5-15 this year).

Project market Open Doors - this year featuring Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China - attracts attention, as does the festival’s focus on new talent. Last year’s Golden Leopard winner, Parque Via, was picked up by Fortissimo and sold widely to festivals and arthouse buyers, although 2008’s biggest noise was Lance Daly’s $2.3m Kisses, picked up by Focus Features.

Winning at Locarno is not always a guarantee, though: Masahiro Kobayashi’s The Rebirth disappeared relatively quickly after its 2007 win (the director is back this year with Where Are You? in Competition), while Andrea Staka’s Fraulein in 2006 also failed to make much of a post-fest noise.

The nightly Piazza screenings always have some juicy titles: this year the festival opens with the Sundance hit (500)Days Of Summer (a continuation of Locarno’s strong relationship with Fox Searchlight and the festival’s only real nod to the US).

More interesting are two French titles: Claude Miller’s cheery documentary Marching Band (a pre-festival screening described by Maire as an “amuse bouche” for the main event), which opens in France on August 5 and was widely felt to be an oversight by Cannes programmers; and the Larrieu brothers’ take on a Hollywood disaster movie, Les Derniers Jours Du Monde, starring Mathieu Amalric.

Spain’s Marc Recha is also screening on the Piazza with a more commercial title than usual: Petit Indi, set in the industrial outskirts of Barcelona with an almost a Kes-like feel, starring Eduardo Noriega and Sergi Lopez.
And Story Of The Weeping Camel co-director Byambasuren Davaa returns with The Two Horses Of Genghis Khan, a documentary-style search for a song in Mongolia.

Over in the International Competition, where 17 films will compete for the Golden Leopard, some titles have distinct pre-festival buzz. These include:

  • She, A Chinese, directed by London-based Chinese writer and director Xiaolu Guo (whose film-making credits include How Is Your Fish Today? and novels include A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers). This is a France-UK-Germany collaboration, with backing from, among others, Warp X, the UK Film Council and Film4.
  • US-South Africa co-production Shirley Adams, a first feature from Oliver Hermanus, in which two families are torn apart when a boy is accidentally shot and paralysed by his friend.
  • Nothing Personal, a Netherlands-Ireland co-production from Urszula Antoniak, in which a runaway from the Netherlands meets another lost soul, played by Stephen Rea.
  • The Search, by Tibet’s Pema Tseden, which won the Jury grand prix at the Shanghai film festival in June and is “one of our strong revelations this year”, according to Maire.
  • Frontier Blues, an Iran-UK-Italy co-production, features four stories shot in Tehran by UK-based director Babak Jalali.

Among Locarno’s packed schedule of events, Leopards of Honour will be given to director William Friedkin, Italian actor Toni Servillo and producer Martine Marignac. There will also be a retrospective of the works of Pippo Delbono and the premiere of his 69-minute feature La Paura, shot entirely on a mobile phone.


Piazza Grande

The Two Horses Of Ghengis Khan (Ger) (Closing night film)
Dir: Byambasuren Davaa
Int’l sales: Atrix Films

Giulias Verschwinden (Switz)
Dir: Christoph Schaub
Int’l sales: T&C Edition

La Guerre Des Fils De La Lumiere Contre Les Fils Des Tenebres (Fr)
Dir: Amos Gitai
Contact: Agav Films Paris/France 2

The Valley (Switz-It-Hung)
Dir: Mihaly Gyorik
Int’l sales: Nonstop Sales/Millennium Group

Les Derniers Jours Du Monde (Fr-Sp-Tai)
Dirs: Arnaud Larrieu, Jean-Marie Larrieu Int’l sales: Wild Bunch

Petit Indi (Sp-Fr)
Dir: Marc Recha
Int’l sales: Celluloid Dreams

Redline (Jap)
Dir: Takeshi Koike
Contact: Tohokushinsha Film Corporation

Same Same But Different (Ger)
Dir: Detlev Buck
Contact: Boje Buck

Sounds And Silence (Switz)
Dirs: Norbert Wiedmer,
Peter Guyer
Contact: Recycled TV/Biograph Film

Unter Bauern - Retter In Der Nacht (Ger-Fr)
Dir: Ludi Boeken
Contact: Filmform Köln


A Religiosa Portuguesa (Port-Fr)
Dir: Eugene Green
Contact: O Som E A Furia

Akadimia Platonos
Dir: Filippos Tsitos
Int’l sales: Pan Ent’t

Au Voleur (Fr)
Dir: Sarah Leonor
Contact: Les Films Hatari

Complices (Fr-Switz)
Dir: Frédéric Mermoud
Int’l sales: Pyramide International

Frontier Blues
Dir: Babak Jalali
Contact: Caspian films

La Cantante De Tango (Bel-Arg)
Dir: Diego Martinez Vignatti
Contact: Tarantula Belgique

La Donation (Can)
Dir: Bernard Emond
Int’l sales: Les Films Seville

La Invencion De La Carne (Arg)
Dir: Santiago Loza
Contact: Mirá Cine

L’Insurgée (Fr)
Dir: Laurent Perreau
Int’l sales: Films Distribution

Nothing Personal (Neth-Ire)
Dir: Urszula Antoniak
Contact: Rinkel Film & TV

The Famous And The Dead (Braz-Fr)
Dir: Esmir Filho
Contact: Dezenove Som e Imagem
At The End Of Daybreak (Mal-HK-S Kor)
Dir: Ho Yuhang
Contact: Paperheart

She, A Chinese
Dir: Xiaolu Guo
Contact: Tigerlily Films

Where Are You? (Jap)
Dir: Masahiro Kobayashi
Contact: Monkey Town Productions


Ivul (Fr-Switz)
Dir: Andrew Kötting
Contact: Sciapode

Warriors Of Love (Den)
Dir: Simon Staho
Contact: XX Film

La Reine Des Pommes (Fr)
Dir: Valérie Donzelli
Contact: Balthazar Productions

Mirna (It)
Dir: Corso Salani
Contact: Vivo Film

Piombo Fuso (It)
Dir: Stefano Savona
Contact: Pulsemedia

Sogno Il Mondo Il Venerdi (It)
Dir: Pasquale Marrazzo
Contact: N.O.I film sas

The Anchorage (US-Swe)
Dir: CW Winter and Anders Edstrom
Contact: tba

The Marsdreamers (Switz-Fr)
Dir: Richard Dindo
Contact: Lea Produktion

Un Transport En Commun (Fr)
Dir: Dyana Gaye
Contact: Andolfi