VENICE — The Locarno Film Festival has appointed Italian film critic Carlo Chatrian as artistic director, following Olivier Pere’s exit.

Chatrian is a surprise choice for the Swiss event: He has never headed a fest, though he has been a longtime Locarno collaborator.

Pere, a former chief of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, revamped Locarno during his three-year stint, positioning it as a solid launchpad for edgy arthouse pics.

He stepped down suddenly in late August to become managing director of Arte France Cinema, the film division of Franco-German net Arte.

Chatrian has collaborated as programmer with several film events, including the Cinema du Reel fest in Paris, Italy’s Alba Film Festival and Courmayeur Noir Festival, and the Italian National Film Museum in Turin. He has worked at Locarno since 2002, both on the selection committee and as curator of retros.

Pere will handover the reins to Chatrian on Nov. 1.

News of the appointment spread rapidly at the Venice Film Festival, with some concern that Chatrian may not have the chops for the Locarno job.

Locarno prexy Marco Solari quelled criticism of Chatrian’s credentials, saying in a statement, “Carlo Chatrian knows our event well and has the charisma and the necessary preparation to guide the festival. I’m sure he’s the right person for this very important task.”

The 66th Locarno fest runs Aug. 7-17, 2013.