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by Eric Kohn
July 30, 2012 9:41 AM
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More Important Than Cannes? Locarno Film Festival Is a Large Platform For Small American Movies

Perry's return to Locano not only speaks to its welcoming environment but the community of filmmakers that the festival continues to focus on. Perry has a fleeting cameo in "Somebody Up There Likes Me," and the movie's director, Bob Byington, had a brief scene-stealing role in "The Color Wheel."

Pére said bringing both filmmakers this year was also a conscious decision. "After 'The Color Wheel,' we wanted to continue by going deeper with our relationship to U.S. filmmakers," he said. In a more general sense, he said, "there may be a connection between these guys that are not in the system, not making movies just to become famous and make it in Hollywood. They want to hold onto their originality."

That's not to say that Locarno disregards more mainstream and bigger-budget fare. The Piazza Grande has proven hospitable to studio movies in previous years (the last edition hosted the European premiere of "Cowboys and Aliens" and opened with "Super 8"). Filmmakers in less immediate need of exposure also appreciate the distinctive environment. "The adjective that comes to mind when I think of Locarno is 'classy,'" said director Jay Duplass, who attended the festival in 2010 to screen his Fox Searchlight feature "Cyrus." "Patrons come not to pimp their film, slip you their screenplay or hobnob with famous people, but to celebrate movies and life.  I think I was even asked about my life outside of film.  It's definitely special and different from other festivals I've attended."

While there are no massive blockbusters in this year's Piazza lineup, it wasn't for lack of trying. Pére said he spoke to several studios and expressed interest in possibly screening both "The Bourne Legacy" and "Total Recall," but the timing didn't work out. Nevertheless, midsize studio films will screen on the Piazza this year for a unique double bill of "Magic Mike" and "Ruby Sparks." The Weinstein Company comedy "Bachelorette" is also on the schedule.

"Americans should wake up and realize that in terms of discovering new talent and exciting new films, Locarno should be a higher priority than Cannes or Venice."

Nadia Dresti, the head of Locarno's industry office, noted that the U.S. presence extended beyond films and filmmakers. "Locarno, with its long history, has always welcomed filmmakers, producers and actors from the U.S.," she said. "Of course, the turnout depends on the program." Distributors attending the festival this year hail from the likes of IFC Films, New Yorker Films, and Zeitgeist Films. There are also programmers from AFI Fest, Northwest Film Forum and the Museum of the Moving Image scheduled to attend.

Still, if filmmakers really want North America to notice their work, there are other festivals they must attend. Fortunately, a number of Locarno's titles make their way to the Toronto International Film Festival in September, sometimes riding the waves of Locarno buzz. ""Locarno gave us good word of mouth heading into Toronto, so the combination of the two worked out well for us," explained Julia Loktev, who premiered "The Loneliest Planet" at Locarno last year ahead of TIFF, in an email to Indiewire. "Locarno was also was good in terms of getting it to a global audience," she said. "For example, I'm at the Durban Film Festival now in South Africa, and the director just happened to mention that he first saw the film at Locarno."

It remains to be seen whether this year's American filmmakers come away from the festival striking a similarly enthusiastic tone. But if the festival's most devoted group of regulars is to be believed, there are reasons for optimism. "Locarno provided me with an unfathomably large platform from which to present a very small movie," said Perry. "Americans should wake up and realize that in terms of discovering new talent and exciting new films, Locarno should be a higher priority than Cannes or Venice."  


  • Neil Young | August 12, 2012 1:59 PMReply

    at the risk of blowing my own "trumpet", might I semi-humbly add Bradford (UK) to the list of festivals showcasing genuine independent US cinema?
    I've been programming a section specifically devoted to this area since 2007 - 'Uncharted States of America' - and in the six editions so far we have shown work by James Benning, Sharon Lockhart, John Gianvito, Matt Porterfield, Alex Ross Perry, Kentucker Audley, Travis Wilkerson, Mary Bronstein, Aaron Katz, Mike Ott, Betzy Bromberg, and many more, often as International Premieres.

  • Lisa Nesselson | August 1, 2012 9:08 AMReply

    Locarno has much to recommend it, but I'd like to mention two other festivals that have always taken pains to program "smaller" American films.
    The Viennale -- the Vienna International Film Festival (Oct 25 - Nov 7) -- provides a superb sampling of independent-minded American indie fare, year in and year out. The cinemas are wonderful and the staff strikes me at being expert at both programming and hospitality. (I suspect the above-mentioned Jem Cohen would echo my opinion.) The splendidly programmed Austrian Film Archive, also in Vienna, takes an abiding interest in creative Yanks spanning the full spectrum of film history. The Viennale celebrates its 50th edition this autumn.
    And, not to state the obvious, but there IS the Deauville Festival of American Film, in France, which will hold its 38th edition Aug 31st - Sept 8th. There are 14 titles in the American Indies competition this year. The doc programming tends to be top notch. And, the fest will open with the above-mentioned "The Bourne Legacy" -- (for what it's worth, all the Bourne films have made their French bow in Deauville.)
    American filmmakers in search of receptive audiences could do far worse than to land at either of these European events.

  • Casey Jones | July 31, 2012 8:31 PMReply

    i get the whole "these movies have trouble finding a home in europe" thing, but i feel like the tone of this is suggesting these are tiny movies with nothing behind them. only, the majority of these (if not all) had openings at Sundance and SXSW, two huge festivals. how much help do they really need? more power to locarno for stepping up their game, but this lineup is been there done that. i think these films are doing a.o.k.

  • Eric | August 1, 2012 2:12 AM

    You raise an interesting point, although the majority of U.S. films at the festival this year actually did not play at Sundance. A good amount did play at SXSW, but again, that audience is predominantly U.S.-based. Locarno provides an international platform.

  • diane | July 30, 2012 6:50 PMReply

    Yes. Because it brings substantial fresh talent. I hope that they keep this strategy for long... We know that success brings the need to comform.

  • eduardo | July 30, 2012 1:28 PMReply

    As an aspiring american film producer,who hopes to display in a festival, Locarno is a hope. Even festivals devoted to independents (Sundance?) are, for the most part, out of reach for independents.

  • Marian | July 30, 2012 3:49 PM

    Yes! I've become disappointed in Sundance as we've seen the growing presence of the 'Indies' with big money and known names. I can understand why they want to make more independent films rather than a lot of the "stuff" that comes out of Hollywood. But after seeing what does get funded, I feel for the unknowns who have to scape together every penny to make their film, if even able to do that, and then get it shown somewhere. Hooray for Locarno!!!!

  • Jake | July 30, 2012 12:36 PMReply

    Suggesting that Locarno is more important than Cannes (or Venice or Berlin or Toronto or Sundance or SXSW, for that matter) is a bullshit headline.

  • norbert | July 31, 2012 6:15 AM

    Jake: Read the article

  • Stewart | July 30, 2012 8:30 PM

    So please tell us why you think that, Jake.

  • Eric | July 30, 2012 1:03 PM

    The headline is longer and more specific than your dismissive comment implies.

  • jimbo | July 30, 2012 11:54 AMReply

    Really Eric? Perhaps Fortnight, and perhaps for American independents, but I'm not sure how you could posit that argument with any confidence for Official Selection.

    And I like Locarno a great deal and think it's made great strides under the current stewardship.

  • jimbo | August 5, 2012 12:54 PM

    i'd suggest retitling the title's intiial question. jake is right. stab at hits and comments.

  • Eric | July 30, 2012 1:02 PM

    You answered your own question. The point is that Locarno can be a serious boost for American independents, which are often marginalized at Cannes and other big festivals.