Brie Larson in Short Term 12

Katelyn Trott is a member of the second annual Critics Academy at the Locarno Film Festival. You can follow her on Twitter at @katemich.

The 66th annual Locarno Film Festival is buzzing with budding talent. In its history of combining commercial and independent cinema as well as its many young filmmaker initiatives, Locarno has also become a dynamic setting for new talent. And with comparatively fewer films programmed, Locarno can offer filmmakers more focus than say Venice or Toronto. Even higher-profile titles share in the atmosphere of discovery.
This year Locarno welcomed actors Danny Pudi and Brie Larson to showcase their newly minted feature films. Both actors know mainstream success, but mostly through television. Pudi is known for the beloved character Abed from NBC’s Community. Larson, meanwhile, has received critical acclaim for her role on The United States of Tara.

Although no stranger to feature film (21 Jump Street, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, and 13 Going on 30), Larson abandons her traditional supporting and minor roles of the past and takes on the lead the lead in Short Term 12. [Editor’s note: Opens Friday at Film Society.]

Playing the part of Grace, the head of the foster care facility, Larson delivers a dynamic performance that is two parts kind and one part troubled. The actress slips seamlessly into a dramatic role. In earlier films, Larson plays upbeat and quirky characters. Her latest release is sure to make her more marketable as she shows she can carry a film as the melancholy lead.

Danny Pudi (right) in Vijay and I

Likewise, in Vijay and I, Pudi takes on a more rounded character as Rad. The Indian actor is still type-cast for his nationality, yet the film allows his character to rise above some of the stereotypes and even transcends himself. In the film, Pudi looses the accent and is a proprietor of a restaurant. The character is also the guide for Will/Vijay (Moritz Bleibtreu), not in a enlightened friendly Hindu sort of way, but as a best friend.

Pudi has acquired much acclaim and many fans for playing Abed in Community, but Vijay and I gives a possible glimpse at more complex characters for the talented actor down the road. This is the first time an audience really gets to see him perform as a normal guy, not as socially awkward Abed or an Indian typecast.

Both films should serve to help these actors acquire more versatile roles in the future. They are also fortunate to have had their international and world premieres at the Locarno Film Festival. Their performances may have been overlooked at an overloaded festival such as Cannes. Their star power has more impact at a festival like Locarno where first films featuring non-stars are abundant and these actors are given an opportunity to display their talent without being out-shined by celebrity-driven films.

Locarno is a great place for films with an independent spirit. The festival is a strategic place to not only launch a film, but also filmmakers and actors’ careers.