Locarno artistic director Olivier Père yesterday at the festival. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

For an event aimed at showcasing new auteurs, Locarno Film Festival chief Olivier Père has embraced a sizable crop of American filmmakers this year. New work from the United States figures prominently in the main competition here in the Swiss lakeside town where the 65th annual festival continues through August 11.

Offering a preview of films that will soon hit the North American festival circuit, as well as an opportunity for audiences to catch up with movies from other festivals earlier in the year, the Locarno Film Festival has set its sights on being an alternative to other big European festivals.

Uniquely, while American indies are in the spotlight this year on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland, movies from stalwart Euro film communities like France and Germany are harder to find. Among the U.S. films in the international competition are Jem Cohen's Museum Hours and Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel's Leviathan, as well as recent Stateside fest hits including Craig Zobel's Compliance, Bradley Rust Gray's Jack and Diane and Bob Byington's Somebody Up There Likes Me.

Now in his third year at the festival, Locarno artistic director Olivier Père came to Locarno after running the Director's Fortnight sidebar in Cannes. Mirroring the Fortnight's mission in France, Père has set his sights on showcasing fresh faces in Locarno. But, to achieve his mission, he's also set a goal of bringing more glamour to this summer showcase.

To satisfy more mainstream moviegoers, including sponsors and star-driven press, Père presents high profile films and filmmakers in the public-friendly Piazza Grande section. Each night, thousands of attendees gather outside in Locarno's large, open central plaza to watch movies on a massive screen. Soderbergh's Magic Mike, Dayton & Faris' Ruby Sparks, Ben Wheatley's Sightseers and Leslye Headland's Bachelorette are among the selections that will screen outdoors this week.

Nick Love's The Sweeney

As the festival got underway last night, Père stood on the plaza stage to welcome visitors during a lengthy opening ceremony on a warm and humid evening. Gunfire on screen reverberated throughout the streets of the old town as Nick Love's The Sweeney unspooled. Nearby, under a full moon, locals set off fireworks to celebrate Switzerland's August 1st holiday. For the Americans in town, the night felt a bit like our own 4th of July.

Sitting down with a group of young film critics earlier in the day, Olivier Père said that he seeks to strike a careful balance here at the Locarno festival. On one hand he aims to emphasize a roster that offers the best in international cinema, both in the main competition section and also in a concurrent competition for new filmmakers. Yet, he also wants to present a splash of glamour with the nightly outdoor screens. The festival is honoring Charlotte Rampling, Alain Delon, Harry Belafonte, Gael Garcia Bernal, Arnon Milchan and Leos Carax on various nights in its popular Piazza Grande section.

Père, himself an accomplished film critic and writer (visit his blog), was at ease yesterday while chatting with the participants in the Locarno Critics Academy, a festival program administered in association with Indiewire this year, with the support of the Film Society of Lincoln Center. His remarks ran long and with his assistant tapping her watch nearby as he lingered with the eight Critics Academy writers, Père encouraged that they fan out across the various sections of the festival rather than congregating in the open-air theater. Or perhaps, he suggested, they might spend some time in a air-conditioned theater catching up with classic films by Locarno Retrospective filmmaker Otto Preminger.

“Some films need critics more than others,” Père admitted to the group, hoping to spark their interest in some of the new auteurs he's invited to Locarno. As he left to get back to work, Père encouraged the group to find him at a festival party later in the week to continue the conversation once they'd seen some of the movies.

The International Competition in Locarno:

The Last Time I Saw Macao (A Última Vez Que Vi Macau), directed by João Pedro Rodrigues & João Rui Guerra da Mata
Berberian Sound Studio, directed by Peter Strickland
Compliance, directed by Craig Zobel
Der Glanz des Tages (The Shine of Day), directed by Tizza Covi & Rainer Frimmel
Image Problem, directed by Simon Baumann and Andreas Pfiffner            
Jack and Diane, directed by Bradley Rust Gray
The Girl from Nowhere (La Fille de Nulle Part), directed by Jean-Claude Brisseau
Leviathan, directed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel
Greatest Hits (Los Mejores Temas), directed by Nicolás Pereda
Mobile Home, directed by François Pirot
Museum Hours, directed by Jem Cohen
The Landlords (Padroni di Casa), directed by Edoardo Gabbriellini
Playback, directed by Sho Miyake
Polvo, directed by Julio Hernández Cordón
Somebody Up There Likes Me, directed by Bob Byington
Starlet, directed by Sean Baker
The End of Time, directed by Peter Mettler
Une Estonienne A Paris, directed by Ilmar Raag
When Night Falls (Wo Hai You Hua Yao Shuo), directed by Ying Liang

Members of the Locarno Critics Academy will be filing daily dispatches from the Locarno Film Festival starting tomorrow here at FilmLinc.com.