Locarno firms initial titles

Strong Asian flavor to 59th edition

LONDON — This year’s Locarno Intl. Film Festival (Aug. 2-12), the first under new director Frederic Maire, is looking to have a distinct Asian flavor.

Already confirmed for the international competition is “Bliss,” a family drama centered on a young guy just released from prison, by Mainland Chinese helmer Sheng Zhimin, and Iranian director Asqar Farhadi’s third feature, “Fireworks Wednesday,” about a young wife from the countryside who comes to Tehran to work as a maid. Both are world preems.

This year’s Open Doors section, which highlights projects from cinematically less-developed countries, will focus on four Southeast Asian countries — Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand. Ten projects are currently being selected from more than 50 submissions and, for the first time, two projects will each receive a grant of 50,000 Swiss francs ($40,000), payable to the producers.

The coin award now brings Open Doors more into line with other project marts like Pusan’s PPP and Rotterdam’s CinemArt, rather than just being a meetings confab.

Fest will also screen 10-15 features from the region — both arthouse and commercial — for info purposes.

Maire also confirmed two titles in the fest’s newly-competitive sidebar, Filmmakers of the Present: Argentina-based director Veronica Chen’s debut pic, “Water,” about a former marathon swimmer and his younger pupil, and Iranian Saman Salour’s “A Few Kilos of Dates for a Funeral.” Latter, a black comedy shot in B&W, will be a world preem.

Swiss national Maire, 44, who quit his job as one of the co-founders of touring kidfest Magic Lantern after 13 years to take the Locarno job, has tweaked the Swiss-Italian lakeside fest’s structure at key points and is also cutting the overall number of titles by 10-20%.

“I’m trying to cut out the parts of the festival that were superfluous,” he told Variety. “Locarno has to be a festival of discovery, and become more edgy.”

Aside from making Filmmakers of the Present competitive, and abolishing the Video Competition, he’s also initiated a third jury for Best First Film across the fest’s two main sections, similar to Cannes’ Camera d’Or prize.

Argentinian helmer Lisandro Alonso is already confirmed for this jury. Main competition jury so far includes Japanese director Nobuhiro Suwa and Swiss photog Edo Bertoglio.

Maire told Variety he’ll also cut down on the number of retro/tribute titles showing in the open-air Piazza Grande evening shows and increase the number of popular pics, including Hollywood fare and important titles screened at fests like Cannes. Piazza Grande can accommodate some 8,000 viewers and is the fest’s main daily showcase.

This year’s retro is devoted to Finnish veteran Aki Kaurismaki, who will also show some 10 pics that have been important to his career.

Full Locarno program will be announced July 12.

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