Attendances at Locarno's main screening venue for the International Competition and Filmmakers of the Present Competition are up 9%-10% on last year, according to artistic director Frederic Maire in a review of his second edition heading up the festival.

Speaking exclusively to, Maire observed that the 2007 lineup for the international competition 'is stronger than last year and I think that this is a result of how the 2006 edition went. We had more persuasive arguments for getting films and we got all of the films we wanted.'

He was 'positively surprised' by the audiences' reactions to two of the competition films - Algerian Amor Hakkar's La Maison Jaune and Masahiro Kobayashi's The Rebirth, the latter of which went on to win the Golden Leopard. 'We discovered La Maison Jaune very late [in the selection], but the public reaction showed that we were right, and we were a bit afraid for the Japanese film which is a very strong and edgy film.' Maire observes.

Locarno also had a regular trickle of 'names' passing through the little town on the shores of Lago Maggiore over the past week - from Sir Anthony Hopkins and Christian Slater through Mike Leigh, Istvan Szabo, Robert Rodriguez to Carmen Maura, Michel Piccoli, and Dario Fo.

'It is important for us to find a balance between stars and films,' Maire said. 'I will never say we don't need stars, but I think it is important to have people who trust us and want to come to Locarno and get involved. A good example of this was Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror on the Piazza Grande. Rodriguez and Rose McGowan were sitting in the middle of the Piazza for the whole screening and then gave autographs. And Anthony Hopkins [who spoke publicly about the festival's 'true independent spirit'] stayed in the cinema for the whole of the screening of his film Slipstream.'

While Locarno's 2007 edition might not have 'buzz films' of the same intensity as last year's buyers' favourites the Golden Leopard winner Das Fraulein, Little Miss Sunshine and Half Nelson, there were nevertheless a number of titles which have caught the attention of the 150-odd international buyers attending the festival this week.

According to Nadia Dresti, head of the festival's Industry Office, La Maison Jaune had been high on many buyers' list of favourites: the French-Algerian co-production has been sold to Switzerland's Xenix Filmdistibution and may be close to being picked up by a sales agent.

Meanwhile, The Match Factory's Michael Weber told that the first sales on Kenneth Bi's third feature The Drummer had been made to Spain's Karma, Lumiere for the Benelux, and to Filmcoopi for Switzerland, as well as having 'strong interest' from the buyers from the UK, Italy and Scandinavia. 'I think the film has touched a nerve in the same way as was done by Kim Ki-Duk with Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring... [which screened in Locarno in 2003],' Weber suggested.

'I have the feeling that there are many more buyers here than last year,' Weber added, pointing out that the industry screening of The Drummer last Sunday morning had attracted more than 40 buyers ahead of the world premiere on the Piazza Grande on Thursday evening.

'Locarno is not just about selling films showing in the festival programme because I know of several sellers like Beatrix Wesle [of Atrix Films] or Massimo Saidel [Latido Films] who were also making deals on catalogue titles,' Dresti noted. 'Or the sales agents were meeting with buyers in the relaxed atmosphere here to talk about the upcoming titles at forthcoming festivals in late summer and the autumn. In addition, the Open Doors platform gives the sellers the chance to meet producers to talk about new projects and has converted many producers to the idea of having their films come to Locarno in the future. Jani Thilges of [Luxembourg's] Samsa Film was here for the first time this year and said he would definitely consider offering a film for the Piazza Grande in the future.'