Locarno Film Festival

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Artistic director Olivier Pere's edgy choices for the Aug. 4-14 Locarno International Film Festival may raise eyebrows for the first time in years.

Sure to shock will be Canadian filmmaker and underground gay porn star Bruce la Bruce's "L.A. Zombie," starring porn star Francois Sagat, who is set to make an appearance at the fest.

"It's a mix of very strange experimental video and gore," Pere says of the unorthodox title. Sagat also has a role in Christophe Honore's somewhat provocative "Man at Bath." "It's pretty sexual," Pere says of the film about a gay couple going through a breakup.

"I want (Locarno) to go back to its origins as a festival that took risks, that didn't just recycle films from other festivals," he adds. "Locarno is the festival of youth and of discovery. I chose original, unexpected films that will divide audiences, movies that will get people talking."

After 63 years of sun-kissed Swiss serenity, Locarno is getting a makeover, thanks to Pere, with a lineup of provocative titles, prizes honoring the next generation of talent, plus an edgy young jury. The festival will also be more focused, with a slimmed-down feature film lineup and new industry-specific initiatives that have a decidedly "less is more" attitude.

Following his successful run as artistic director of Cannes' Directors Fortnight, Pere has brought together a diverse lineup of titles, including everything from Chinese comedy to Canadian gay porn for a festival about "youth, talent and discovery."

Singaporean Eric Khoo is president of a jury that features fresh faces from behind and before the camera, including Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani, French actor-director Melvil Poupaud, Swiss director Lionel Baier and American filmmaker Joshua Safdie. Actor Louis Garrel will also head to Locarno to present his short film, "Petit Tailleur," which previously screened in Cannes.

Also from France, Cedric Anger will screen his latest title "The Lawyer," starring Benoit Magimel in the title role as a young law intern who takes on a Mafia client.

French director Benoit Jacquot's "Au Fond des Bois" will be the opening-night film at the Piazza Grande, Locarno's huge open-air venue. The film stars 27-year-old French actress and filmmaker Isild Le Besco, who will also present her third feature as a director, "Underworld," which Pere says tells the "shocking and poetic" story of three girls who kill a biker in a small village.

"I picked a new generation of young directors for the jury," Pere says, matching this year's program. "There's definitely a rejuvenation of filmmakers this year -- a lot of first, second and third films and also world premieres. The average age of filmmakers this year is very low. I'd estimate around 30 or 35 years old."

The youth movement makes sense because Pere is only 39 and began his post at the Directors Fortnight at the tender age of 33.

In addition to pushing the content envelope, Pere has shaken things up by eliminating many of the sidebars, leaving only the Piazza Grande, Competition, Out of Competition and Filmmakers of the Present categories.

"I reduced the number of films because I wanted to be more selective and demanding in terms of quality," he says. "The less films there are, the more each film can be in the spotlight."

Another wrinkle to this year's event is a new emphasis on dealmaking, with the launch of an initiative called Industry Days. From Aug. 7-9, organizers are planning networking events, debates and roundtables focused on production and distribution, complete with official industry badges for professionals and an Industry lounge reserved for business.

By day, buyers will screen films from the Competition, Filmmakers of the Present and Piazza Grande selections while producers meet international filmmakers to discuss co-production opportunities. At night, everyone will convene for networking events or informal dinners.

"It will be great to have buyers and world sales agents all in the same place," says Nadia Dresti, head of Locarno's Industry Office, who points out that during a 10-day festival such industry proximity isn't always possible. "We want to give buyers the opportunity to see the whole program in three days."

Organizers are hoping that Locarno's laid-back nature will roll over onto the industry side of things and spark business before the frenzied fall film festival rush. "It's important to have a festival like Locarno with a real human dimension," Dresti says.

In addition to a workshop on digital distribution, the co-production Forum hosted by the European Producers Club, the festival will co-host a themed meeting focusing on "How to position and sell a Swiss-European co-production on the international market?"

Adds Pere: "Locarno is getting a facelift this year. We want to surprise people. Expect the unexpected."
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