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Locarno Fest Gets Underway With 'The Sweeney,' Controversy Over Funding Domestic Films

The Sweeney Poster Art - P 2012

The lakeside Swiss festival runs through August 11, with an eclectic lineup that includes Leos Carax and Steven Soderbergh.

ROME – The 65th edition of the Locarno Film Festival gets underway Wednesday with a Piazza Grande screening of Nick Love’s thriller The Sweeney, a world premiere, and a domestic Swiss controversy over whether the government should focus its support on "more innovative" Swiss films.

The Sweeney, based on a popular 1970s U.K. television series, will screen following the opening ceremony and inaugurate the storied lakeside festival in the famous 8,800-seat Piazza Grande, Europe’s largest film venue. Each year, a few Piazza Grade screenings are hampered by inclement weather and, unfortunately, that could be the case for the opening film, with forecasts calling for scattered thundershowers all day in the area around Locarno.

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If that is indeed the case, it would mirror the storm that broke out this week when Swiss Minister of Culture Alain Berset said he wants the Swiss government to direct its financial resources to backing "more innovative” productions rather than toward “commercial movies geared to a large audience.” The statements, which appeared in the daily newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung, sparked a political debate within Swiss culture circles.

The controversy’s timing means the topic will cause a buzz in Locarno, but the issue itself is unlikely to have an impact on the festival, which under third-year artistic director Olivier Pere has struck a balance between cerebral film du auteur and popular productions aimed at a wide audience.

The controversy focuses on Swiss productions, which currently account for less than 5 percent of the Swiss film market, but a larger percentage of Locarno’s lineup, which includes Swiss director Markus Imhoof’s documentary More Than Honey, which will screen in the Piazza Grande and be the festival’s closing film on August 11.

Among Locarno’s other highlights this year is the award of a Leopard of Honor award to enigmatic French director Leos Carax, Excellence Awards to British actress Charlotte Rampling and Mexico’s Gael Garcia Bernal, and a lineup that includes Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, Wrong from Quentin Dupieux, Pablo Larrain’s political tale No, and a special retrospective of the work of director Otto Preminger.