Open To the Public

Report About the 59th Festival del Film Locarno 2006
Going to the Piazza Grande, the vast square in the middle of Locarno, is the highlight of the day for festival participants and local cinema goers. The tradition dating back to the early years of the festival is to have daily open-air screenings in a space that seats 7,000 people before a giant screen — after which they can vote for the winner film. This year, the Public’s Choice Award, was given to Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others). The film takes place in the 1980s in East Germany where a surveillance official wholeheartedly working for the STASI, the State police service, is assigned to spy on a renowned playwright. He does his spy work faithfully hoping to advance his career yet he never anticipates that literature, art, and music—an integral part of the playwright’s life — would change him as he spies.
Every night from August 2-12, 2006, a camera showed a bird’s eye view of the Piazza full of spectators. At exactly 9:30 p.m. it moved to the clock tower in the square to show that it was time to start. First-time artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, Frédéric Maire, would then go on stage for his nightly introduction of the director of the film about to be screened. 
Though this year marked the 59th edition of the Locarno Film Festival, Maire, along with other organizers, seemed particularly keen to highlight the identity of the festival — the fact that since its start, Locarno has been a forum for premiere oevres and not just international premieres of films. Whatever is new, experimental or “first-time” can find space on the testing ground of the festival. Undoubtedly, some people would say that the films that premiere in Locarno are the ones that were not accepted in Cannes or Venice. Michael Bertrami, award-winning Swiss documentary and feature filmmaker, was on the festival programming board this year. He was previously in charge of the selection process for the Leopards of Tomorrow Short Film Competition. He says, “The festival takes pride in being the springboard for many new directors, trends and styles. It has been interesting to watch young directors come in with their short films and later come back again to premiere full length feature films.” The Promised Land, Bertrami’s first long feature, was premiered in Locarno in 2004.
Films from the Arab world
Locarno has also had a history of being open to filmmaker from the Arab world.  To cite a few examples from the recent past, films such as Yousri Nasrallah’s El Medina (The City, 1999) Ossama Fawzy’s first film Afareet El Asphalt (Asphalt Devils, 1996) and Nacer Khemir’s Tawq El Hamama El Mafqud (The Lost Ring of the Dove, 1991) all premiered in Locarno and got the Special Prize of the Jury in their respective years. Bab El Chams (The Gateway to the Sun) by Yousry Nasrallah from Egypt was also screened in Locarno.
Golden Leopard
It was with a sense of pride that Frédéric Maire mentioned that one-third of the films in the international competition were the first long features of their directors. Das Fräulein (Fraulein), the directorial debut of Swiss/Croatian director, Andrea Staka was given the Golden Leopard, the festival’s most prestigious award. The film shows the lives of three women from former Yugoslavia who immigrated to Switzerland. Issues of identity, language, culture and homeland, are raised in the film.   Staka speaks of her work saying, „Das Fräulein is a personal film that connects my two worlds. I grew up in Switzerland even though former Yugoslavia is my family’s country… The film shows the lives of three modern women from different regions of a country that no longer exists… I wanted to explore the displacement in our era; more and more people are moving between cultures, be they refugees, travellers or simply homeless.” Ryan Fleck’s Half Nelson, also a first work, is the American film that was awarded the Special Jury Prize.  Portuguese director Hugo Vieira da Silva received a special mention from the jury for his first film, Body Rice, which was a quasi-experimental film that went far from conventional story-telling and filmmaking styles. 
Culturel and social interactions
Interestingly many films occupied themselves with issues of cultural and social interactions.  Other than Das Fräulein, a German film, Der Mann von der Botschaft (The Man From the Embassy) spoke of a German man on diplomatic mission to Georgia and his relationship with a young Georgian girl. This friendship develops in the context of the German embassy’s foreign aid mission to the Georgian population. Le Dernier des Fous (The Last Madman), a French/Belgian film that received special mention from the Ecumenical Jury for being both “vivid and visionary and for its denouncement of a world where there is an absence of hope and love,” is another significant cross-cultural encounter.   Malika, the Moroccan housekeeper of a highly dysfunctional family is its balancing force and the one character to which all the family members could resort to find acceptance and comfort. Suzanne, a French film directed by Vivianne Candas, showed a relationship between a French man and a Greek woman.
Hightlighting difference
The fact that people who preoccupy the same geographical space can be extremely different — culturally, socially, and religiously, was a recurrent motif in this year’s films in Locarno. Many film characters were bilingual. There were many silences that interrupted the stuttered efforts at communication, and many heavy accents that made themselves understood in the language of another. Whether or not it is significant, it is certainly worth noting that in comparison, most of the films of the grand film-masters in this edition of the Cannes film festival were much more focused,“local,” and culturally specific in their subject matter. For example, Nanni Moretti’s Il Caimano (The Crocodile) is a film that occupies itself with Italian characters, life, film-scene and politics. Pedro Almodovar’s Volver (Return) has a brilliant cast of exclusively Spanish women.  While such films have an undeniably lofty content and universal appeal, it is striking that the films of the younger film directors screened at Locarno were more earthy, edgy, and matter-of-fact when it came to portraying the daily realities of globalisation. 
The Locarno Film Festival does not shy away from risks — both stylistically and thematically. Play Forward is a section that features video art and installations. The "Filmmakers of the Present" competition was created to be “the space for discoveries and event films…navigating among the unexpected and increasingly blurred frontiers between fiction and reality. Le Dernier Homme (The Last Man), directed by Ghassan Salheb, the Lebanese filmmaker, was screened in this section of the festival. The film is a modern vampire story that mixes reality with magic realism, and takes place in contemporary Beirut.
Plunging deep into current events, the "Leopards of Tomorrow" Short Film Section featured films from the East of the Mediterranean. Chicca Bergonzi, the director of the section wrote, “In light of the tragic events that have plunged the Middle East back into the drama of war, the films we have chosen symbolically represent an unbearable current situation: stories full of humanity, anger, despair, tenderness, and desires often told without any filter or mediation, from which we can and we must draw the courage to demand a different future.”  
Some of the films in competition were, Aftershave directed by the Lebanese Hany Tamba, Palestinian filmmaker’s, Sameh Zoabi’ Be Quiet, which was also shown in Cannes in 2005 and which got the prize for best short fiction at the Biennale of Arabe Cinema in Paris this year. Ca Sera Beau - From Beyrouth With Love directed by Wael Noureddine, also shown as part of the Biennale of Arab Cinema in Paris this year, was also screened in Locarno. Quelques Miettes Pour Les Oiseaux and Sharar were two Jordanian films in competition.  Najwa Najjar’s Yasmine Tughanni (Yasmine Sings) received special mention for its unique portrayal of “the violence and accusations faced by the Palestinian population.”
Open Doors
Marco Cameroni, working with the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs was heavily involved in the planning and programming of a festival section entitled “The Open Doors.” This year the focus was on Asian cinema. He said, “the work of certain cinematographers is foregrounded and because they are here, they are able to meet other producers, distributors and filmmakers so that they can do more work and bigger projects.  We hope that these same filmmakers will come next year with their films for the official competition.” Next year, “Open Doors” will feature Middle Eastern cinema. Cameroni explained that, “Locarno is a place for serious artists…People with social and political awareness come here, people who are politically engaged.”
 Ecumenical Jury Award
This year’s festival took place while the Israeli army continued its attacks on Lebanon. A few weeks before its start, the festival administration decided to cut off one of its sponsors, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, removing logos and mentions from all printed materials. It was in the shadow of such atrocious events that the various juries of the festival — including the ecumenical jury — did their work. This year, the ecumenical jury gave its prize to Agua, a Portuguese film about two swimmers of different generations, the older of whom enables the younger man to continue in the sport after he had decided to give up. The film could have easily taken place anywhere in the world.  Its dialogue is sparse. The rhythms of swimming, plunging, and gasping, again and again, hypnotise and entrance spectators — irrespective of race, religion or class.  It was for the universality of the film and its comprehensive and inclusive worldview that the ecumenical jury gave it the award.  There was an aspect in Agua that insisted that a single discourse/language could address audiences regardless of who they were.
Some would find the choice of the jury impervious to current events.  In many ways, Agua was more earthy and grounded in its cinematic style and more inclusive in its content. 
The atmosphere at the Locarno Film Festival is inclusive and welcoming. Sitting in the Piazza Grande to watch films, makes it seem like the sky is the limit. There were no rainy nights or cloudy skies to spoil the charm of the Piazza Grande in this edition of the festival. Every night, you could see the stars.