Sprocket opera reinforces ties with studios, Sundance and U.S. indie players

Olivier Pere, in his second edition as Locarno topper, is flying higher. After debuting with a leaner, edgier selection last year, this time the ambitious artistic topper has lured more name auteurs and assembled a wide-ranging mix that also reflects the indie-focused fest’s closer rapport with the Hollywood majors.

Pere, a former topper of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, has accomplished a rare coup for the 64-year-old Swiss fest dedicated to auteurs. Traditionally, few studio films screen in Locarno and those that do rarely come with talent. But this year, Universal will launch “Cowboys and Aliens” from the 7,000-seat Piazza Grande, with stars Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and helmer Jon Favreau expected to attend. Additionally, Paramount’s “Super 8” opens the fest, while Sony’s “Friends With Benefits” plays the Piazza Grande.

“We did a lot of work to strengthen the relationship between Locarno and the majors, but also with the indies, the New York scene and Sundance,” explains Pere.

Accordingly, this year’s beefed-up yank contingent covers the range of American cinema, from blockbusters to no-budget offerings. The more independent selections include Alex Ross Perry’s black-and-white “The Color Wheel” and Mark Jackson’s drama “Without” in the slimmed-down Filmmakers of the Present section, plus Sundance standouts “Another Earth” from helmer Mike Cahill and “Terri” by Azasel Jacobs. Visual artist Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet,” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, world preems in the main competish.

“Screening all these different kinds of films is not a contradiction, nor a paradox,” insists Pere. “It just shows a vision of cinema as a unified whole, but with different kinds of artists and different ways of making movies or sharing feelings and ideas with the audience.”

The 14 world premieres in the 20-title competish also include Romanian auteur Adrian Sitaru’s “Best Intentions,” his followup to “Hooked,” and Palestinian filmmaker Tawfik Abu Wael’s drama “Last Days in Jerusalem.” Both helmers are Locarno aficionados.

Gaul’s politically engaged Nicolas Klotz will be at Locarno for the first time to launch his “Low Life,” centered on a young French girl who falls in love with an illegal Afghan immigrant.

Among the known names attending for the first time are Franco-Algerian auteur Rabah Ameur-Zaimeche with costume drama “Smugglers’ Songs” about an 18th-century Robin Hood, in competition, along Japan’s prolific Shinji Aoyama with “Tokyo Park.”

Another Locarno newcomer whom Pere singles out is Gaul’s Emmanuel Mouret (“Shall We Kiss”), whose eclectic romancer “The Art of Love” will world preem on the Piazza Grande.

“In my first year, it was very important to impose a vision and to rebuild the organization of the festival and its goals,” Pere says. “But I think this edition is really much stronger because we are lucky to have a very large number of important films from established directors.”

This year should also see more suits coming to the Swiss fest. And there will be more film personalities on stage, from Leslie Caron (coming to support a Vincente Minnelli retro) to Mike Medavoy, Abel Ferrara, Claudia Cardinale and Bruno Ganz — all being feted.

The presence of such guests significantly ups Locarno’s networking quotient, notes Locarno industry office topper Nadia Dresti.

“Having more high-caliber people coming this year for the Piazza will also have a positive impact on our industry side because it provides more opportunities,” says Dresti, who expects some 150 sales agents, mostly from Europe, along with contingents from India, being spotlighted by it’s Open Doors co-production mart, and Colombia, the country picked for the fest’s new Carte Blanche window to promote works in post.

Locarno Film Festival
When: Aug. 3-13
Where: Locarno, Switzerland

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