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."