Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me"
As the Locarno Film Festival heads into its 65th year, its European presence remains as pronounced as ever. But the upcoming edition, which runs August 1 - 12, also contains an unusually large number of features from the U.S.
Six American productions will screen in the international competition section. Three more have been programmed in the festival's famous Piazza Grande, which screens films outdoors each night to crowds that often swell to 8,000. Additionally, there are several more English-language films produced in the U.K., Canada and other countries, as well as American documentarian Jem Cohen's Vienna-set "Museum Hours."
According to Locarno artistic director Olivier Pére, who took over the festival three years ago after running the Directors' Fortnight sidebar in Cannes, the increased presence of American films -- as well as an increase in U.S. industry attendance -- did not coalesce by accident.
"It's intentional," Pére said. "For a few years, we've been following the new generation of young American filmmakers and we've made some interesting connections. It appears to represent the new wave of U.S. independent filmmakers."
Indeed, several of this year's features -- such as Sean Baker's "Starlet," Craig Zobel's "Compliance" and Bob Byington's "Somebody Up There Likes Me" -- played earlier this year at the South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, which is often seen as a haven for low-budget American cinema. However, the same movies rarely find a welcome home overseas. Pére hopes to change that.
"American cinema isn't very well-known or appreciated in Europe by other festivals," he said. "For instance, in Cannes, you always have the most important American filmmakers, along with some studio films, but it's not very often that you discover a new and interesting American filmmaker. I think Locarno can be that place."
Dree Hemingway in Sean Baker's "Starlet."
Pére had already begun sifting through emerging American filmmakers during his time at Directors' Fortnight, when he programmed Josh Safdie's debut feature "The Pleasure of Being Robbed" as the only American film in the 2007 selection. Safdie served on the Locarno jury during Pére's inaugural year, and with his brother Benny will attend the 2012 edition to screen their 22-minute short film "The Black Balloon" on the Piazza.
This year, Pére has selected another young American filmmaker with a history at the festival for jury duty: Alex Ross Perry, the director of the indie sleeper hit "The Color Wheel" (which won Indiewire's Best Undistributed Film poll last year) will join the Filmmakers of the Present jury. After playing at a few U.S. festivals, "The Color Wheel" made its European premiere at Locarno last year, where it won acclaim from no less than Pedro Costa.
Perry said that the festival helped his movie find audiences by providing a fresh context. "It is really unlike any festival in American, and I am sure that includes the ones I haven't been invited to attend," he said. "I learned last year, starting at Locarno, that the status as 'the American movie' or 'an American movie' is going to sell more tickets and probably drum up slightly more interest in you than some of the European films. We are considered exotic to them."
The audience was highly receptive to the film, and the industry's presence made Perry's experience practical as well. "I met people at many European festivals who said they see every American film no matter what," he said. "They just like them more and get to see ones like mine far, far less often than the American blockbusters that reach foreign cinemas. I got an offer for French distribution at the end of our first screening, just from the head of the company walking up to me."