Locarno melds past, future

Fest sports directors of yore, digital

Entering his second year as artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, which this week celebrates its 60th edition, Frederic Maire said his 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 event runs through Aug. 11.

Only the Venice Film Festival is older than Locarno — like Locarno, the Festival de Cannes started in 1946 — and the fest 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 back several of the directors it introduced to the world — 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 ani Japanese film opening the festival in the famous Piazza Grande.

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.

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

Maire turned heads last year when in his first year as artistic director he selected "Miami Vice" to open the festival.

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