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The Locarno Film Festival has announced the cancellation of its 73rd edition due to Swiss government restrictions. In its place, the festival has set up an initiative to support independent cinema.

The prominent Swiss summer fest, which was scheduled to run August 5-15, is known as a champion of international indie cinema and the industry behind it. It is also known for its 8,000-seat outdoor Piazza Grande screening venue which is the largest outdoor venue in Europe.

Given the impossibility of preserving the festival’s strong outdoor spirit, Locarno has decided not to pursue the online festival option that several other fests have resorted to in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. 

“We looked at a number of different scenarios,” Locarno artistic director Lili Hinstin (pictured) tells Variety.

“For us the priority was to save the physical aspect of the festival, which for us is very closely tied to its (setting) since Locarno audiences are in this amazing place between a lake and a mountain where you have the Piazza Grande with this gigantic screen,” Hinstin noted.

“During the immediate post-confinement period I don’t think people will really want to sit in front of their computer screens,” she added.

With this in mind, Locarno organizers have instead decided to launch an initiative to support independent cinema called “Locarno 2020 – For The Future of Films.”

Though details are still being hammered out, the initiative will consist of monetary prizes that will be given to “directors whose movies have been blocked by the pandemic and are therefore suffering economic damage,” she said.

The prizes will be based on artistic value, and will consist of: A Special Leopard for an international director; a Special Leopard for a Swiss film, and other prizes and forms of support.

The prizes will be given by two juries formed by directors — one for the international films and one for Swiss projects.

Locarno is also working on a parallel initiative that will provide a form of support for Swiss arthouse cinemas, hard hit by the pandemic’s impact.

“We said to ourselves: we have to (set) aside the usual paradigms and think about this situation differently,” Hinstin said. “In a moment of crisis like this we have to try to do something different. We can only be very humble in front of the tragic magnitude of this crisis for the economy of the film industry.”

So Locarno is “trying to make our small contribution and maintain the festival’s spirit which is to support independent cinema, its directors and auteurs.”

More details on “Locarno 2020 – For The Future of Films” are expected in coming weeks.