A 'diversity in the range of possibilities of filmmaking' is how Locarno Film Festival's Frederic Maire describes the line-up for his second festival as artistic director.

The Swiss festival kicks off Aug 1 with a screening of the Japanese film Vexille by Fumihiko Sori on the Piazza Grande.

'The two films from Spain [in the International Competition] - Jaime Marques' Ladrones from Madrid and the Catalan film Lo Mejor de Mi by Rosee Aguilar - are quite contrasting, but symbolic of what we have tried to achieve this year,' Maire said in an exclusive interview with ScreenDaily.com ahead of announcing the 2007 programme in the festival's 60th anniversary year.

'In terms of the countries represented in the International Competition, I am happy to have Algeria there,' Maire noted. 'The debut film La Maison Jaune by Hakkar Amor will be a surprise for many. It is a sensitive and intelligent film, a road movie in the Kiarostami sense about the difference between town and country.'

In addition, Maire welcomes a stronger presence this year from Asia and the US. While a Japanese film is opening the Piazza Grande programme, there are many Chinese films in various sections of the festival such as Zhang Yuedong's Mid-Afternoon Barks in the Filmmakers of the Present competition, Tao Peng's Little Moth and Zhao Liang's Crime and Punishment in the Here & Elsewhere sidebar.

'We have many more American films on the Piazza and in other sections this year,' Maire continued, saying that previous showings of Little Miss Sunshine and Half Nelson helped Locarno 's profile. ' Locarno now rings a bell in the US. The higher profile is also a reality of the production because there are so many good films in the independent scene.'

Indeed, the 2007 edition sees seven US productions screening on the nightly open-air screenings on Locarno's Piazza Grande, including Paul Green grass' The Bourne Ultimaturm, Adam Shankman's Hairspray, Judd Apatow's Knocked Up, Brett Morgen's Chicago 10, Mikael Hafstrom's 1408.

Also, the International Competition has two US titles: George Ratliff's Joshua and Anthony Hopkins' Slipstream.

Among the common threads running through this year's programme Maire identifies 'a number of films by young women film-makers' including Adrienne Shelly's Waitress, Roser Aguilar's Lo Mejor di Mi, Ulrike von Ribbeck's Sooner Or Later, and Romanian Alina Pintilie's Nu Te Supara.

'Many of these films address the conditions of women, violence within the family, the issue of rape and social conditions. In addition, one comes across films about topical dramas in the world, one of the best examples being Jim Threapleton's Extraordinary Rendition [in the International Competition]'.

Locarno includes a number of feature debuts 'as well as films by established directors who are trying out something new or unusual. And then we have a film like Slipstream by Anthony Hopkins which is very funny and light and young in spirit,' Maire notes.

Maire said that this year's selection process compared to his first in 2006 'was easier because the selection last year confirmed the kind of direction we wanted to take and the fact that we want to give films the best possibile visibility. Producers and sellers trust us - indeed, having so many world premieres is a sign of this.'

The International Competition's 19-title programme is sporting 14 world premieres - from The Rebirth by Japan's Masahiro Kobayashi to Hineer Saleem's Sous Les Toits De Paris, and a third of the Piazza Grande's programme is made of world premieres, and 13 of the 19 films in the Filmmakers of the Present competition are being shown for the very first time.

As part of the festival's celebrations of its 60th anniversary, around 20 film directors whose careers were launched in Locarno will be returning to present their films which were prize-winners at the festival. The line-up of special guests includes Claude Chabrol, Mike Leigh, Istvan Szabo, Gaston Kabore, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Catherine Breillat.

As in previous years, the festival is still plagued with the problem of not having sufficient hotel accommodation in Locarno itself after some key establishments closed their doors two years ago. Last year, more guests were put up in neighbouring Ascona or in Locarno 's private apartments.

Maire confirmed that he had 'enough rooms for our guests', but admitted that 'the situation is not getting better because there are no more hotels since last year, although we are hoping some new ones could appear soon. We are improving the shuttle service with Ascona and will be offering some guests the opportunity to stay in Lugano if they so wish.'

Meanwhile, one of the discussion topics at this year's festival could be the future financing of the event since Switzerland's Federal Office of Culture (BAK) is expected shortly to announce the results of its consultation on funding Swiss film festivals in 2008-2010.

' I definitely hope that the financing [by BAK] will stay at $994,000 (CHF 1.2m),' Maire said. 'But the question is whether it could be more.' He added that a Leopard Club had been established to find other private sources of money for the festival in the future.

The full line-up of films can be found at www.pardo.ch.