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DAILY NEWS: 53rd Locarno Awards Chinese "Father," Fest Director Announces Departure

DAILY NEWS: 53rd Locarno Awards Chinese "Father," Fest Director Announces Departure



by A.G. Basoli


(indieWIRE/ 8.14.00) -- It's been around at least as long as Cannes, but
French may be about the only thing the Locarno Film Festival -- this year in
its 53rd edition -- shares with its glitzy "twin" on the Cote d'Azur. In the
past, Locarno was only thought of as the second best French-speaking
festival after Cannes, but over the years this Swiss celebration of young
cinema has established a solid reputation as a prestigious, alternative
platform for international independent films. As the Festival came to a
close, winners were announced and the Festival Director announced that he
will be leaving, just weeks after the death of the Festival's President.


The official jury headed by Russian Film Historian Naum Klejman and
including Variety's Todd McCarthy, Japanese director Shinji Aoyama (at Cannes 2000 with "Eureka") and Chinese director Zhang Yuan (Best Director, Venice 1999) awarded the top prize, the Golden Leopard, to the Chinese film "Baba" ("Father") by Wang Shuo, based on the director's 1990 novel "I Am Your Father" about the conflicted relationship between a father and a son.
The film was denied approval by Chinese censors and retained a shelf life of
several years in China before Locarno's Festival Director Marco Muller
brought it over to the Festival in 2000.


At the closing of the festival on Saturday, Marco Muller, announced his
resignation from his nine-year post as the Festival's director: "The
festival is no longer enough for me," he says. "I have decided to become a
producer and I will work on projects with filmmakers from countries just out
of a war, like the new generation of Sarajevo. There is strong continuity
between what I have done up to now and what I intend to do." Muller's
departure leaves the festival in organizational no-man's land and comes on
the heels of another great loss for Locarno in the death of Festival
President Giuseppe Buffi just a few weeks prior to the event's opening. No
successor has been designated yet.


Muller's tenet that "Cinema exists to imagine worlds" is clearly one of the
cornerstones of the festival's official competition line-up. Of the 18
entries in competition this year, seven were first or second films and
included films from Portugal, Brazil, India, China and Vietnam. One of the
most provocative and visually arresting was Portuguese director Pedro
Costa
's "No Cuarto da Vanda" (In Vanda's Room), shot over three years in
Lisbon's Fontainhas, a Cape Verdian immigrants quarter and a drug and
poverty-ridden neighborhood earmarked for demolition. Fontainhas's actual
occupants form the ensemble around Costa's protagonist Vanda Duarte, a drug
addict whose room is the unlikely refuge of family and friends. Costa shot
the project entirely in digital and won a special mention for his
achievement in expanding the expressive possibilities of cinema.


The only Italian film in competition and the first Italian film to win an
important prize at Locarno in 15 years was "Gostanza di Libbiano," about the
trial of a witch in 16th Century Tuscany, directed by Paolo Benvenuti in
rigorous black and white; it won a Special Jury Prize. Bronze Leopard for
Best Actor went to the ensemble of Austrian Florian Flicker's "Der Uberfall"("The Hold-up"), Bronze Leopard for Best Actress went to Sabine Timoteo for her role in the German film "L'Argent, L'Amour, L'Argent," directed by
Philip Groning. Silver Leopard for Young Film went to another German film
"Manila" by Romuald Karmakar, while the other Silver Leopard went to Hong Kong director Fruit Chan's "Little Cheung."


"Locarno is somewhat of a UFO among festivals," said Marco Muller, "In that
it was able to carve an autonomous space for itself among European festivals
where the 'invisibles' became visible despite distribution operated
censorship." Especially unique in tone, the Locarno Film Festival is in
start contrast to Cannes chic: A mammoth-sized screen built on the main
square turns the quaint little Alps town on the Lake Maggiore into a
veritable Cinema Paradiso. Seating 7,500 very vocal and frisky spectators
each night, the Piazza Grande venue reflects the event's somewhat
egalitarian nature which extends to the program.


It's not unusual for Hollywood summer blockbusters to screen back to back
with an obscure little German first feature or a small independent project.
Nor does it come as a surprise that a new electronic cinema competing
section was established to meet the evolution of the medium. "Festivals will
have to re-invent themselves in the next few years" commented Muller. "The
time of demonizing video is over." Meanwhile the Honorary Leopard to the
career went to Dutch director Paul Verhoeven at the screening of his latest
film "Hollow Man." [A. G. Basoli]

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