Olivier Pere leaves signature on Locarno

Said establishing new feel for festival was important

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- With a day left in the 63rd edition of the Locarno Film Festival, there’s little doubt that first-year artistic director Olivier Pere has put his signature on the event.
 
Pere, the first-ever French artistic director for the storied festival, came to Locarno from the Un Certain Regard sidebar at Cannes, and in his first year in Locarno the festival has a decidedly more francophone feel, with a day dedicated to French film and more French-language presentations before Piazza Grande screenings. But the biggest difference compared to previous years, say critics and industry insiders, is what one critic called the “bold” selections in and out of competition. The festival has garnered both praise and criticism, but it is clear people are paying attention.
 
“Some selections are better than others, some are imperfect,” writes Boris Sollazzo from the Italian daily Il Sole/24 Ore. “But none are uninteresting.”
 
Pere himself said that establishing a new feel for a festival is important in its first year under a new artistic director as a way to letting the public, industry players, and critics know what to expect going forward.
 
“I didn’t try to make a revolution here,” Pere said in an interview on the festival’s penultimate day. “But I obviously had to establish my vision of cinema within the festival.”
 
Going forward, Pere says he plans to promote Locarno – the most important European festival between Cannes and Venice – as a true festival of the public: the 8,800-seat Piazza Grande is by far the biggest festival venue on the continent. He also said that the festival’s relaxed atmosphere, the Swiss government grants for up-and-coming filmmakers, and the festival’s tradition for indentifying good independent films are all selling points.
 
“I hear people tell me that Locarno reminds them in some ways of Cannes in the 1960s, before it became so big,” Pere said.
 
Friday’s schedule was a good example of the eclectic nature of the festival’s selection this year. A day after the Piazza Grande hosted a science fiction thriller (Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters”) followed by a 1942 comedy set during the Nazi invasion of Poland (Ernst Lubitsch’s “To Be Or Not To Be”) the festival again scheduled an unlikely pair: the international premiere of “Das Letzte Schweigen” (The Silence) drama about a missing girl from Swiss-born German director Baran bo Odar, following by a screening of Francesco Rosi’s 1970 classic “Uomini contro” (Many Wars Ago).
 
Both directors were on hand ahead of their screenings. Odar, at his first Swiss festival, said that after a week in Locarno he wanted to ask a question of his parents, who moved from Switzerland to Germany when he was a boy.
 
“I have to ask them why they chose to move away from such a beautiful place,” he said. “It’s wonderful here.”
 
The 88-year-old Rossi, meanwhile, told the Piazza Grande crowd that old movies like his were important not only for the stories they tell but for their historical value.
 
“It’s important that younger’s today know the true history of their country,” Rossi said. “Films can show a truer version of history, one you can’t find in the history books.”
 
The festival, which got underway August 4, concludes Saturday with the award ceremony followed by the world premiere of “Sommervogel” (Little Paradise), a first feature film from 64-year-old Swiss director Paul Riniker, a veteran of more than 70 documentaries.
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