Locarno festival gets heated over 'Sun'

Italian official speaks out against Red Brigades film

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- Controversy arrived on the first full day at the Locarno Film Festival as Italian Minister of Culture Sandro Bondi blasted a documentary set to screen over the weekend and industry figures leapt its defense.

Bondi, speaking Thursday from Rome, criticized Gianfranco Pannone's "Il sol del'avvenire" (Tomorrow's Sun), a 78-minute film about the Red Brigades, a Marxist-Leninist extremist group that ravaged Italy in the 1970s and early '80s.

Bondi said the film -- made partially with Italian state funding -- would be offensive to family members of those killed during the so-called "Years of Lead" covered by the documentary and that such a film would never again be made with Italian state funds.

Later, the ministry's director-general for cinema, Gaetano Blandini, issued a statement in which he asked the families affected by the Red Brigades to forgive the state for funding the film. He stopped short of saying the state would avoid funding controversial projects, but said that he would invite families of Red Brigade victims to help evaluate projects similar to "Il sol del'avvenire" in the future.

Industry figures in Locarno immediately jumped to the film's defense, characterizing Bondi's comments as a kind of censorship.

"The Italian government should make its decisions based on the quality of the project, not its political correctness," said one Italian producer, who asked to remain nameless since one of his own projects is under consideration for state funding. "I have not seen the film, but I haven't heard anyone say it was badly made."

The festival itself did not take a position on the controversy but said that queries about the film's screenings Saturday and Sunday were on the rise.

Elsewhere at the Locarno festival, Amos Gitai's holocaust drama "Plus tard tu comprendras" (Later You'll Understand) screened to a mostly full crowd in the Piazza Grande despite the threat of rain. The nightcap was "Al Massir" (Destiny), a 1997 drama that is part of the festival's tribute to Egyptian director Youssef Chahine.

The festival concludes Aug. 16.