Locarno's Frederic Maire has pronounced himself 'very pleased' with how his third outing as the festival's artistic director panned out this year.
Speaking exclusively to ScreenDaily.com ahead of the announcement of the awards at the weekend, Maire pointed to such highlights as the reaction of the audience to the Amos Gitai film One Day You Will Understand on the Piazza Grande and the full cinemas for the Nanni Moretti retrospective.
'I was wondering if the Piazza Grande would work so well especially comparing the Saturday night slot of last year for The Bourne Ultimatum with this year's with [Philipp Stoelzl's] North Face. But I didn't need to worry because we had 7,700 people on the square'
'The industry side of the festival also went well,' he continued. 'Five films found sales agents after arriving here in Locarno and I heard a lot of buyers being very enthusiastic about this year's selection. I think we found the right balance . Open Doors was also a huge success with the number of one-to-one meetings trebling, and some projects were not only finding co-producers in Europe but also in other parts of Latin America.'
Meanwhile, away from the festival film programme, speculation was naturally rife in the local Swiss newspapers and a popular talking point at evening cocktails about the possible candidates as successor to Frederic Maire as the festival's artistic director once he steps down after the 2009 edition to become the head of Switzerland's Cinematheque.
According to a festival insider, an internal solution might be considered by picking one of the three existing delegates of the artistic direction - Nadia Dresti, Tiziana Finzi, or Chicca Bergonzi - while several other names have been floated including:
- Alberto Chollet, programme coordinator for Swiss Television SRG SSR
- Journalist, critic and film club host Luciano Barisone, who has written two monographs on Catherine Breillat and Robert Guediguian and was a member of this year's Open Doors awards jury
- Teresa Cavina, artistic director of the Rome International Film Festival, who had been number two to Maire's predecessor Irene Bignardi until 2005
- Domenico Lucchini, most recently responsible for art and culture at the Swiss Institute in Rome
- Marc Mäder, head of programming for the Pathe Suisse cinemas, who was reportedly offered the job by festival president Marco Solari three years ago
- Nicolas Bideau, the head of the film section at the Federal Office of Culture (BAK) and self-styled 'Monsieur Cinema' since 2005
Any ambitions Bideau might have in the direction of Locarno would, however, seem to have been scotched after clashing with festival president Solari during a roundtable on the pros and cons of injecting some more glamour to Swiss cinema earlier this week at the festival.
Bideau has never been shy of controversy ever since coming to BAK three years ago and has acquired a reputation for his uncompromising pronouncements. Asked in an interview with Tribune de Geneve during the 2005 edition of Locarno about his preference as a successor to Irene Bignardi, he replied: 'Personally, I don't give a damn. It doesn't matter to me whether [the successor] is French Swiss or not, European or not. Ideally, I would like Locarno to become the European Sundance.'
In response to Bideau's hankering for more attention being paid to the red carpet, Solari stated: 'So long as I am president here, and that's for a few more years yet, Locarno will not get an artistic director who is only interested in glamour,' and stressed that the festival had always focused on content and its role as a place of discovery.
In an interview with Le Temps on Thursday, Solari explained that he would be happy for stars to come to Locarno 'on the condition that they have something to say. That is the only criteria. One shouldn't idiotically squander Locarno's real capital: the enormous affection of the public. So, I am not going to choose someone who wants to stupidly imitate the Cannes festival. And I am not going to choose someone who only judges according to 'hard arthouse'. I am for a middle line: I am looking for someone who is open to all forms of cinema, who has something to say and is the seismograph of the world, but is also someone who gives pleasure and makes one dream.'
He suggested that the future artistic director would be a marriage of 'a purist cinephile and someone who only thinks of sequins and industry.'
According to Maire, the idea would be for the successful candidate to be appointed before next year's festival so that they can learn how the machine works. 'The festival is getting bigger with more journalists coming, politicians visiting and more actors and directors attending, which demands a certain knowledge of the festival. I had a chance when I started of already having known the machine from the inside.'
'If the new person is not appointed before the  festival, we would have the press then just talking about this rather than the films,' he said.
This is what happened three years ago when the decision on the person to follow Irene Bignardi - Frederic Maire - was left until the day after the festival had ended.