61st Locarno International Film Festival

Switzerland, August 5 - August 15 2009

The jury

Ronald Bergan (UK), Michael Ranze (Germany), Mahmoud Jemni (Tunisia), Dana Duma (Romania), Magdalena Hirsiger (Switzerland)

Awarded films

Every year in the pretty Swiss lakeside town of Locarno, crowds gather mainly to watch ‘popular’ films on the giant screen in the Piazza Grande. But the many side-bars show the festival’s serious side, much of which encourages young talent such as the Filmmakers of the Present section, for films shot on digital, and the Leopards of Tomorrow for short films. However, the strongest sections were the Critics’ Week and Ici et Ailleurs (the title borrowed from Godard) for films with some social significance.                

One of the strengths of the festival has always been its retrospectives. I particularly remember a wonderful Orson Welles one a few years ago. They also present the Leopard of Honour to ‘great’ filmmakers.  Unfortunately, from a personal point of view, this year was particularly disappointing for both the honorific award –  it went to has-been one-good-film American director William Friedkin, and for the retrospective which was Manga Impact – The World of Japanese Animation. For a Manga fan, this must have been a real feast. Everywhere one turned, there were child characters from Manga staring at us with their large Occidental eyes. No matter how technically miraculous some of them are, I’m afraid their content is mainly aimed at 12-year-olds and under, and immature adults. I also fear for the future of the culture and literacy of the computer-obsessed generation. One of the better ones, I’m told, was Summer Wars, in the International Competition, which was about a young girl who destroys a monster created by a young computer hacker… (yawn).        

The competition was the usual (for any A category festival) mixture between the good, the bad and the ugly. There were five out of the 18 films that we considered for the Fipresci prize (not an unusual average), but only four of them had our unanimous approval. Fortunately we were rescued by the last film, Nothing Personal, a Dutch-Irish co-production, ravishingly shot on the west coast of Ireland, which stood out like Gulliver among the Lilliputians. (Ronald Bergan)

Locarno International Film Festival: www.pardo.ch