Fest topper touts titles despite money crunch

ROME — The 62nd Locarno Film Festival will be the swan-song edition for artistic topper Frederic Maire, who, in marked contrast with familiar moanings about the financial dark cloud choking the international indie film industry championed by the Swiss fest, is upbeat about his lineup, his legacy and what lies ahead.

Maire — who will step down after four years to head the Swiss Film Archive and will be succeeded for the 2010 edition by former Cannes Directors’ Fortnight topper Olivier Pere — says his sense of the globe’s artistic pulse as he assembled this year’s fest was that the monetary meltdown has actually stimulated a burst of creativity.

“Basically, I think the world is living through something similar to the effects of the (2001) Argentinian crash, which prompted one of the richest times in Argentinian cinema,” he says.

According to Maire, the current global crisis has only impacted midrange movies — pics with stars that cost up to $50 million but are risky. These pics in Locarno have always been scarce.

Instead, for low- and no-budget movies, the crisis has triggered an explosion of fresh energy because cash-strapped buyers are now looking to pick up these types of films, he observes.

“I haven’t come across a crisis; I’ve seen a wide range of really interesting and inventive productions — in both narrative and stylistic terms — from all corners of the indie world.”

Among selected titles, Maire notes, Locarno will unspool its first entry from South Africa in competition: Cape Town-set drama “Shirley Adams,” by first-timer Oliver Hermanus, about a mother struggling to care for her disabled son. Fest will also witness the return of Greek cinema with a comedy, “Akadimia Platonos,” by Berlin-based Greek helmer Filippos Tsitos (“My Sweet Home”), and will see hot Blighty-based Chinese director-novelist Xiaolu Guo with “She, a Chinese,” which is backed by the U.K. Film Council and Film 4.

Marking the first Japanese toon in the fest’s competition will be Mamoru Hosoda’s “Summer Wars,” follow-up to his lauded “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time,” and which will complement Locarno’s Manga Impact retro dedicated to Japanese anime auteurs.

“It’s a very diverse and rich competition, where there are experimental filmmakers working in a slightly more conventional manner — a return of sorts to more traditional narrative and acting, rather that strong stylistic effects,” Maire says.

Fest will open with the European preem of Fox Searchlight’s “(500) Days of Summer” unspooling on the fest’s 8,000-seat Piazza Grande, Europe’s largest open-air venue.

Of the other high-profile titles getting a Piazza Grande launch — and competing for the Variety Piazza Grande Award presented by Variety crix to the pic best combining artistic smarts and commercial potential — Maire points to the world preems of big-budget Teutonic WWII drama “Untern Bauern,” about a Westphalian community where peasants hide a Jewish family from the Nazis, and “Les derniers jours du monde” (This Is the End) from Gaul’s Larrieu brothers (Jean-Marie and Arnaud), “a European homage to the Hollywood disaster genre” about a man’s search for a lost love in the midst of a global apocalypse.

As for Locarno’s future, Maire sees his handover to Pere as a natural extension of his own vision, given the type of selection Pere carried out during his six-year stint as topper of the Cannes Quinzaine.

“The idea of Locarno as a laboratory of new cinema is the festival’s future, because that’s what everybody likes and appreciates about us,” he says.

TIP SHEET

What: 62nd Film Festival Locarno

Where: Locarno, Switzerland

When: Aug. 5-15

Web: www.pardo.ch

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