Locarno Film Festival in like a lion

Fest president Marco Solari hits out at other festivals

Special Report: Locarno Film Festival

LOCARNO, Switzerland -- The Locarno Film Festival, so often considered a gentle entry point into the autumn film season, got off to a roaring start Wednesday.

Speaking with passion that bordered on anger, festival president Marco Solari blasted other festivals and parts of the film industry for their commercialism and willingness to bend under the pressure of marketing machines.

He recounted a conversation with an anonymous executive who suggested that the festival ditch its multiple sidebars and concentrate on its famous outdoor screenings in the city square or the 8,000-seat Piazza Grande. The move supposedly would save money, which could then be spent on bringing in big-name stars.

"That man doesn't understand a thing about Locarno," Solari roared.

Solari recalled that the festival was founded at a time when Europe was threatened by the tide of fascism and that its independent editorial line can be considered an antidote to totalitarianism. "Locarno stands for culture," he reminded the assembled dignitaries, before thanking commercial sponsors who still think likewise.

In addition to the Piazza Grande screenings, this year's event, which runs through Aug. 15, highlights auteur cinema with two competition sections (international competition and the filmmakers of the present), two shorts competitions and a panoply of other sections. These include a retrospective dedicated to Japanese manga, another on contemporary life, politics and the arts as well as a documentary sidebar -- and one on "film and football."

The Open Doors Factory project market is entirely given over to independent projects from the Greater China region of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Opening night in the Piazza played out with Marc Webb's Los Angeles-set romantic comedy "(500) Days of Summer" and followed with the harder-to-digest "War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness," Amos Gitai's filming of his stage adaptation of "The Jewish War."