Rivera's first feature wins top honors at festival

Top prize at the 61st Locarno Film Festival was awarded Saturday to “Parque via,” a first feature by Mexican helmer Enrique Rivera.

The small but impactful drama centering on the caretaker of a vacant mansion took home the Golden Leopard plus a check for 90,000 Swiss francs ($82,000), shared equally between the director and producer.

The international competition jury, including directors Paolo Sorrentino (“Il Divo”) from Italy, Goran Paskaljevic from Serbia and Dani Levy from Switzerland, presented the special jury prize to Polish family drama “33 Scenes From Life,” the third feature from Malgoska Szumowska.

The director nod went to Quebecois drama “Elle veut le chaos,” by Montreal helmer Denis Cote, while Italian vet Ilaria Occhini copped actress kudos for her role as an aging invalid in femme drama “Black Sea” and Turkish thesp Tayanc Ayaydin won actor for “The Market: A Tale of Trade,” an Anatolian-set fable by British director Ben Hopkins.

Both Asian entries in the fest’s main competition drew special nods: the well-liked Korean road comedy “Daytime Drinking,” by first-timer Noh Young-seok, and mainland Chinese helmer Pan Jianlin’s dour digital drama “Feast of Villains,” which drew way fewer critical plaudits.

The fest’s non-competitive Piazza Grande program — unspooled every evening in the town’s 8,000-seater main square — offered a good blend of audience-pleasers. German mountaineering drama “North Face”; Karim Dridi’s Marseilles-set gypsy-kid drama “Khamsa”; opener “Brideshead Revisited”; and Austrian slasher sequel “Dead in 3 Days 2” were among the hits. Audience prize went to U.K.-France co-prod “Son of Rambow.”

The inaugural Variety Piazza Grande Award, presented by Variety critics (including this writer) to the pic best combining artistic smarts and theatrical potential, went to Solveig Anspach’s wry Icelandic comedy “Back Soon,” centered on the chaotic life of a dope-smoking poetess. Pic closed the fest.

On the trade side, the fest’s most successful section appears to be its Open Doors Factory co-production lab, which this year focused on Latin America. The 12 projects selected, from 332 applications, attracted some 550 meetings during the four-day period. Next year’s huddle will focus on East Asia.

Though Locarno’s current director, the well-liked Swiss film buff Frederic Maire, is not due to quit his post to head the Swiss Film Archive until after the 2009 edition, all the gossip during the 10 days was about his possible successor.

Fest prez Marco Solari, who officially starts his hunt today for candidates with an eye toward reinvigorating the fest over the long term, was already busy gathering names and suggestions. His decision will be crucial in deciding whether the Swiss-Italian lakeside fest will continue as a respected but increasingly provincial egghead event or regain its former position as the smallest of Europe’s big festivals.

INTL. COMPETITION JURY
Golden Leopard: “Parque via” (dir. Enrique Rivero, Mexico).
Special Jury Prize: “33 Scenes From Life” (Malgoska Szumowska, Germany-Poland).
Director: Denis Cote (“Elle veut le chaos,” Canada).
Actress: Ilaria Occhini (“Black Sea,” Italy-Romania-France).
Actor: Tayanc Ayaydin (“The Market: A Tale of Trade,” Germany-U.K.-Turkey-Kazakhstan).
Special Mentions: “Daytime Drinking” (Noh Young-seok, S. Korea), “Feast of Villains” (Pan Jianlin, China).

FILMMAKERS OF THE PRESENT COMPETITION JURY
Main prize (ex aequo): “The Fortress” (Fernand Melgar, Switzerland), “Alicia in the Land” (Esteban Larrain, Chile).
Special Mention: “Prince of Broadway” (Sean Baker, U.S.).

FIRST FEATURE JURY
“March” (Haendl Klaus, Austria).

AUDIENCE AWARD
“Son of Rambow” (Garth Jennings, France-Germany-U.K.)

VARIETY PIAZZA GRANDE AWARD
“Back Soon” (Solveig Anspach, Iceland-France).

OTHER AWARDS
Netpac Prize: “Daytime Drinking.”
Fipresci Prize: “Parque via.”
Oecumenical Jury Award: “Black Sea.”
International Cine-Club Federation Prize: “Yuri’s Day.”
CICAE Prize: “Autumn” (Ozcan Alper, Turkey-Germany).
Critics Week Prize: “Kites” (Beata Dzianowicz, Poland).
Youth Jury Prizes: First Prize: “Yuri’s Day,” Kirill Serebrennikov, Germany-Russia); Second Prize: “33 Scenes From Life”; Third Prize: “Black Sea”; Environmental Award: “Sleep Furiously” (Gideon Koppel, U.K.).

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