New fest topper puts distinctive stamp on Locarno

Pere slims down lineup but adds edgy auteur infusion

In an effort to bolster the Locarno Fest’s once-unchallenged status as Europe’s preeminent event dedicated to discovering new auteurs, the fest’s new artistic topper, Olivier Pere, is putting his stamp on the event by cutting clutter while radicalizing the selection to include more edgy, ultra-indie and genre titles alongside the classic arthouse cinema.

For his first edition, Pere, a former topper of Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, is giving the 63-year-old fest a trim, launching a leaner Locarno, with a sharp eye for “original, interesting, innovative” works, rather than a stuffy “luxury showcase for world cinema.”

Pere’s first move at the helm was to scrap the multiformat Ici et Ailleurs section and redefine the two competitions, so that the Filmmakers of the Present competish is now just for filmmakers bringing first and second works.

He then proceeded to assemble a lineup packed with 40 world premieres, half of which are first-time features.

Some of his selection pushes the limits of contempo cinema, being closer to the video, documentary and art installation worlds. For example, Chinese helmer Xu Xin’s “Karamay,” unspooling in the International Competition, is a six-hour documentary, with no voiceover or musical score, chronicling the tragic consequences of a fire.

Filmmakers of the Present comprises “September 12” by Turkish video artist Ozlem Sulak, who interviewed 12 people of different ages and backgrounds about the Sept. 12, 1980 coup d’etat in her country.

But the Locarno lineup is by no means limited to experimental fare.

“Even with young directors, it’s not just for radical cinema or installations and video art,” Pere says. “Many of the first features display the kind of classic narrative vision of cinema that I like as well, and that I think is important to represent.”

Accordingly, opening Locarno’s 63rd edition will be Gallic helmer Benoit Jacquot’s period drama “Au fond des bois,” which will unspool in the 8,000-seat outdoor Piazza Grande.

“It’s important to open the festival with a great European auteur like Benoit Jacquot, whose film provides an example and an inspiration for the kind of cinema we want to support,” Pere says.

And Pere’s lineup certainly embraces other helmers who are already established names on the festival circuit. Among these are German auteur Pia Marais’ highly anticipated “At Ellen’s Age,” Hungarian helmer Benedek Fliegauf’s sci-fier “Womb” (starring Eva Green) and Canadian director Denis Cote’s relationship drama “Curling.”

Buzzed-about British monster movie “Monsters,” by Gareth Edwards, will unspool on the Piazza Grande, Europe’s biggest open-air venue, which will also see the overseas bow of Fox Searchlight’s “Cyrus.”

In what reps a significant rarity for Locarno, from where the majors historically launch titles sans talent in tow, “Cyrus” star John C. Reilly, who is being feted with a spotlight, will hold a masterclass conducted by Variety executive editor Steven Gaydos. Helmers Jay and Mark Duplass will also make the trek.

Another member of the mumblecore movement, director Aaron Katz, will be in Locarno’s main competish with his noirish “Cold Weather,” which bowed at the SXSW fest in March.

Young Brooklyn-based director Kitao Sakurai’s “Aardvark,” which turns on a blind man seeking solace in martial arts, will world preem in Filmmakers of the Present, where U.S. doc “Foreign Parts,” about junkyards in the so-called Iron Triangle in Queens, by Verena Paravel and J.P. Sniadecki, will also unspool.

Gallic helmer Christophe Honore is in the international competish with “Man at Bath,” starring Chiara Mastroianni — who will be celebrated with an Excellence Award — and former male porn star Francois Sagat. Sagat also stars in gay zombie pic “L.A. Zombie” by Canadian helmer/provocateur Bruce LaBruce, also competing.

Maintaining Locarno’s close Italo rapport, cinema Italiano is repped, among other pics, by competition title “Pietro,” a drama from Daniele Gaglianone in his trademark neorealist vein, and cult helmer Franco Maresco’s docu “I Am Tony Scott,” an homage to U.S. clarinetist Scott, the bebop great of Sicilian origin.

Pere sees himself as going back to Locarno’s roots. Over the decades, the fest has been instrumental to launching the careers of high-caliber helmers such as Claude Chabrol, Stanley Kubrick, Marco Bellocchio, Mike Leigh, Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Fatih Akin and Kim Ki-Duk, to name just a few.

“The most important change is to make it like it used to be,” Pere says, “to discover new filmmakers, to have a very clear vision and very generous and exciting vision of cinema.”

Locarno Industry Office beefs up focus on buyers

Locarno has long been the place for speciality label types to hobnob in summer and do business in an informal but well-organized Swiss setting.

But looking to maximize the value of the fest’s promotional impact, new topper Olivier Pere is adding a bit more structure and heft to the fest’s industry side, introducing formal industry screenings and closer collaboration with its Open Doors co-production mart, which is dedicated to Central Asia this year.

“It’s very important to support the films (beyond) positive feedback from film critics. We do everything we can to attract distributors,” says Pere.

And while the Locarno Industry Office, headed by Nadia Dresti, has long tubthumped sales of competish titles during or after the fest, this year is seeing a trio of pics being picked before the fest even begins.

Gaul’s MK2 snapped up world sales on first-time Romanian helmer Bogdan Apetri’s “Periferic,” depicting life on the outskirts of Bucarest.

And two new Italian companies acquired Locarno titles: Flavio Donnini’s Rome-based Ellipsis Media Intl. has taken world sales on Daniele Gaglianone’s “Pietro,” while nascent local distributor Atlantide Entertainment took Italian rights to Bruce LaBruce’s “L.A. Zombie,” with which it is launching its gay-themed Queer Frame label.

The Locarno Industry Office also has a pact in place with Europa Distribution — a network of 67 Eurpean indie distribs dedicated to maximizing marketing strategies on titles that its members often buy as a group — launched last year.

Some 150-200 buyers are expected to attend Locarno’s Industry Days, which will run Aug. 7-9. By ensuring that all competish titles will unspool for industryites during these three days, the organizers aim to foster more biz.

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