Noted helmers in triumphant Locarno return

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ROME -- Entering his second year as artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, which this week celebrates its 60th edition, Frederic Maire said the festival's sights remain firmly focused on the future.

"There is nothing wrong with celebrating Locarno's storied past, but the festival remains one of discovery," Maire said in an interview. "Locarno has a talent for recognizing trends and discovering new talent. We want to continue that."

The festival kicks off Wednesday with a slate heavy on Hollywood fare and cutting-edge technologies. Known for its laid-back atmosphere on the shores of Lake Maggiore in the foothills of the Alps in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, the film event runs through Aug. 11.

Only the Venice Film Festival is older than Locarno -- like Locarno, the Festival de Cannes started in 1946 -- and over the years Locarno has provided the first international exposure for directors as diverse as Claude Chabrol, Stanley Kubrick, Paul Verhoeven, Marco Bellocchio, Mike Leigh, Spike Lee and Chen Kaige.

To celebrate its 60th year, Locarno is inviting several of the directors it introduced to the world back this year -- Chabrol, Bellocchio and Leigh, among them -- to preside over screenings of the films they originally took there in a special Back to Locarno sidebar.

One of the new trends on display will be digital technology. At least 17 films and shorts will screen digitally this year, including Fumihiko Sori's "Vexille" -- the animated Japanese film opening the festival Wednesday in the town's famous Piazza Grande, Europe's largest outdoor cinema arena.

Three of the 11 Piazza Grande screenings will be digital films along with two films in competition and three in the Leopards of Tomorrow sidebar, which seeks to identify up-and-coming new talents.

One of the digital films screening in competition -- Brett Morgen's "Chicago 10" -- is part of another trend emerging in Locarno: a taste for Hollywood fare.

Maire turned heads last year when in his first year as artistic director, he selected the blockbuster "Miami Vice" to open the festival in the Piazza Grande -- a stark contrast to the weighty, cerebral films favored by predecessor Irene Bignardi.

The trend continues this year, with Universal Pictures' "The Bourne Ultimatum" and "Knocked Up," Fox Searchlight's "Waitress" and New Line Cinema's "Hairspray" all on the burgeoning program.

"We didn't set out to find Hollywood films," Maire said. "We looked for interesting or innovative films, and several turned out to be from Hollywood."

The festival continues to be an early port-of-call for many films and new directors. The 19-strong in-competition lineup includes 15 world premieres and four international premieres. Seven of the films are the first full-length feature from that director.
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