Locarno Film Festival: Europe's Sundance?

Locarno Outdoor Film - H 2015
AP Images

Locarno Outdoor Film - H 2015

For nearly 70 years, this Swiss event had celebrated the indie and offbeat from around the world — including Hollywood — and this year is no different (Amy Schumer, Udo Kier and Michael Cimino, anyone?). Here are four reasons it's worth the trip.

This story first appeared in the Aug. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

While many European festivals are grappling with their identity, the Locarno Film Festival, whose 68th edition will run Aug. 5-15, has remained true to its mission of promoting new talent and art house cinema. It all started in the late 1940s with an emphasis on Italian neorealist directors such as Roberto Rossellini and evolved into a showcase for offbeat filmmakers from around the world. This year's guest list is typically diverse, ranging from reclusive helmer Michael Cimino to cult actor Udo Kier and frank Hollywood "It" girl Amy Schumer. Here are four reasons to travel (a three-hour train ride or 1½-hour drive from Milan airport) to this year's event.

A Boost in (Euro) Indie Cred

Locarno artistic director Carlo Chatrian unabashedly shares the same goals for promoting film as Sundance chief John Cooper. Locarno programmers make the trip to Park City each January, and Cooper came to Switzerland last year to compare notes with Chatrian. "Neither Sundance nor Locarno invite films just to get talent," says producer Martin Marquet, who has a short film in this year's lineup. "Films want to have that brand on their posters." Adds Chatrian: "Whenever it's possible, we do what we can to help independent cinema."

Outdoor Screenings at the Piazza Grande

One of the festival's main draws for movie lovers and indus­try types alike is the 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, which hosts open-air screenings every night and remains a strong testing ground for pub­lic opinion. This year's fest opens with Jonathan Demme's Ricki and the Flash, the Diablo Cody-penned dramedy starring Meryl Streep. Other Hollywood pics to get the Piazza Grande treatment include Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and Trainwreck, with Schumer and Bill Hader on hand to introduce the film to European audiences.

Ricki and the Flash

Abundant New Talent

With the mission to be the world capital of auteur cinema, Locarno focuses on connecting young, unknown talent with global dealmakers. Last year, after Yuriy Bykov's second feature, The Fool, took home four awards, the stark Russian drama quickly was snapped up for international distribution by Berlin-based shingle M-Appeal.

Dealmaking Without the Headaches

For execs with festival fatigue, Locarno's relaxed vibe has become one of its biggest draws. Says Kino Lorber CEO Richard Lorber, who picked up the drama La Sapienza at last year's event: "Given the appar­ently unresolvable growing pains of Sundance — challenges to get to screenings, seemingly impos­sible transportation issues, inadequate screening venues — for the most part these are not endemic to Locarno. I'm really looking forward to the selection this year."