A New Director for the Locarno Film Festival By Christian Jungen

in 58th Locarno International Film Festival

by Christian Jungen

After announcing the prizes of the 58th edition, the outgoing director Irene Bignardi got an enthusiastic standing ovation from the 6,000 film lovers in the magnificent Piazza Grande. The Rome-based Italian announced in June that she will not renew her contract. She had said on that occasion that she was tired after the long journey and that she wanted her life back. In the future, the former film critic will write about literature for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica and will teach film at the University of Venice. Also leaving the festival is co-director Maria Teresa Cavina, who has been working at Locarno for 8 years and whose name is now linked to the ones that will compose the new Rome film festival’s team.

On Sunday afternoon, one day after the festival’s closing ceremony, president Marco Solari presented its new director, Frédéric Maire. After several months of searching, the commission that was formed for finding a substitute to Bignardi, composed of Solari, Tiziana Mona and Federico Jolli (both from the Televisione della Svizzera Italiana), proposed Maire as the only candidate to the administrative council. Maire was elected unanimously. 19 of the 28 members of the council were present. Maire gets a 3-year-contract and will start attending to his duties on October 1st.

In a press conference in Locarno the same day he thanked the outgoing director Bignardi and promised to continue her work. Maire said that he won’t name a co-director, as he wants to put together a team formed by collaborators and external consultants. One of his highest priorities is to establish good contacts with the distributing companies. “I want to have a good relationship with them all, but not being dependant on them.” In recent years, big spectacular movies were missed in the open air Piazza programme. “Piracy is a big problem”, Maire said, “but I want to make it possible to show blockbusters with a cinematographic meaning as premieres in the Piazza.” The Piazza has seats for 7500 spectators and it is the heart of the festival.

Maire was born in 1961 in Neuchâtel. His father is Swiss, his mother Italian. He speaks French, Italian, English, Spanish and German. He studied five years of Political Science and Literature at the University of Nuremberg, but without finishing his studies. He then worked as a film journalist for magazines and radio stations in French-speaking Switzerland. He has also made several short and medium-length feature films. Maire is a Locarno insider. From 1986 on he wrote as a journalist for the Festival daily Pardo News . Under director Marco Müller he renewed the catalogue. He was also the head of the press department from 1994 to 1996, a member of the programming commission (1997-2000) and one of the moderators for press conferences in this last year’s edition. In 1992 he co-founded the children film festival Magic Lantern, which he co-edited up to today. Maire is also the president of the Swiss Federal Commission for the Development of Film Culture. He is a well-known personality in Switzerland.

But does he have enough international connections? He was asked at the press conference about this point, and he answered that “it is not important who the director of Locarno is, but what the festival is like. I have a lot of friends all over the world. I will ask them to help me to open new doors for the festival.” Maire underlined that he has a good-relationship with Venice’s director Marco Müller. The Venice Film Festival, which always takes place a few weeks after Locarno, is the biggest rival for the Swiss event. In the last years, Venice has taken quite a lot of films, such as the winner of the 2003 edition, The Return, by Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, which was supposed to be premiered in Locarno that year.

Maire pointed out that the festival has to be different from Venice, and also from Cannes, Berlin and San Sebastian. He wants Locarno to be a festival focusing on the discovering of new cinema and new film techniques. ” I love cinema from A to Z. Locarno must be open to popular cinema as much as it is to experimental cinema”, Maire said. To the Swiss newspaper Blick he also declared: “The territories I know best are France, Belgium, Asia and Latin America.”

President Solari added that the structures of the festival will be re-thought and newly defined. In her five-year-tenure, director Bignardi introduced several new sections such as Open Doors, In Progress and The Human Rights Programme. She transformed the film festival into a small biennale with guests such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude, who were in Locarno last week. The enlargement of the programme was often criticised by the Swiss and French media. Maire has not announced yet which of the festival’s sections he wants to keep.