Laffer tops rejigged fest

Amid supportive cheers for new artistic director Olivier Pere and a lineup of pics that had set out to shake up the old order, the 63rd Locarno Film Festival closed on Saturday with “Winter Vacation,” a deadpan digital comedy from China’s Li Hongqi, taking home the Golden Leopard for the international competition (worth $85,600).

The special jury prize went to freshman helmer Marian Crisan’s Romanian drama “Morgen,” which is practically assured Swiss distribution, having also nabbed the ecumenical prize.

Denis Cote’s “Curling” earned the Canadian helmer the director award, and also allowed him to pick up the actor prize for his protag, Emmanuel Bilodeau. Rounding out the main competition salutes, actress laurels went to Jasna Duricic for the Serbian drama “White White World,” directed by Oleg Novkovic.

The jury for the Filmmakers of the Present sidebar awarded its Golden Leopard to “The Art of Speaking” (“Paraboles”), part five of French docu helmer Emmanuelle Demoris’ “Mafrouza” series on a slum in Alexandria, Egypt. Second prize went to U.S.-France co-production “Foreign Parts,” directed by Verena Paravel and JP Sniadecki, who also took the first-feature prize.

A panel of Variety critics gave the Variety Piazza Grande Award to Jalmari Helander’s tongue-in-cheek adventure story “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale,” in acknowledgment of the Finnish pic’s combination of artistic and commercial merits.

The public’s prize, sponsored by Swiss bank UBS, went to Eran Riklis’ feel-good yarn “The Human Resources Manager.”

A sense of renewed energy was in the air, due in large part to a general feeling of expectation and confidence in Pere’s ability to steer the fest toward resurgence.

The former Cannes Directors’ Fortnight topper slimmed the fest down, reducing the number of films to 280 from last year’s 397, and was unafraid to showcase titles that skirted controversy.

Fest prexy Marco Solari expressed unbounded enthusiasm for the new director at the close, praising Pere’s championing of youth, courage, freedom and a commitment to international coverage.

For the first time, Locarno also hosted three days of industry screenings and meetings, attended by 900 accredited delegates including 242 buyers. Among the companies represented were IFC, Visit Films and Artificial Eye. The event is expected to become a permanent fixture in the post-Cannes, pre-Toronto landscape.

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