The normally quiet southern Swiss town of Locarno has burst into life with the opening of the International Film Festival.
For the 56th time, the central square – the Piazza Grande – has been turned into a giant open-air cinema.
For the next week, the Piazza and cinema theatres around the town will feature a vast selection of films, with many focusing on the fundamental rights of man, and the human struggle.
Although the event seems to attract more and more visitors every year, director Irene Bignardi denies that the festival is getting too big.
“We don’t really have any more films than last year. I don’t think bigger is better. More generous and more open is better. We are opening our interests to more countries and many more themes.”
The elegant arcades and alleyways leading off the main square overflow with restaurants and bars, offering shelter from the scorching sun under brightly coloured umbrellas.
As dusk falls, the cobbled streets throng with the hustle and bustle of excited filmgoers.
The festival’s economic benefits to the town are clear.
There are nearly 100 hotels in Locarno itself, and another 200 in the surrounding areas.
Tourism director Flavio Bunetti says these are completely booked up for the first and last weekends of the festival.
Rolanda Vonlanthen, president of the Locarno branch of Hotellerie Suisse, has worked out that those 25,000 to 30,000 overnight bookings translate into SFr2.5 million ($1.85 million) in revenue.
Vonlanthen says what is equally important for him is the publicity that the festival generates, spreading the word about the picturesque lakeside resort around the globe.
“During these ten crazy days we have some very interesting guests. They’re different from the normal family holidaymakers - much more interested in culture. They create a very electric atmosphere,” he adds.
In Bar Verbano next to the giant cinema screen of the Piazza Grande, the waiters are worked off their feet bringing beers and milkshakes to their thirsty customers.
Bar owner Claudio Belloli says he has to triple his workforce during the festival, but he’s not complaining. “We manage to double the amount of trade and the event is good for Ticino as a whole.”
Funky festival food
Belloli will have a little extra competition this year from the bars and food stalls set up on the Rotonda, between the Piazza and the Fevi movie venue, where you can buy reasonably priced, exotic dishes from all parts of the world.
Covered seating areas allow visitors to enjoy or endure the band on the central stage in comfort, while in another section of the Rotonda, hot tubs are provided for filmgoers seeking relief from their busy schedules.
Meanwhile, at the lakeside, well known international jazz artists perform nightly as part of the “All that Jazz” programme, featuring music and films about the genre.
As the years go by, the off-film part of the festival seems to become more comprehensive, taking into account the needs of families as well as footloose film buffs.
It is all part of Bignardi’s plan to maintain the event’s friendly feel.
“I have been to many festivals,” she told swissinfo, “but I think Locarno has the most wonderful public in the world.”
swissinfo, Julie Hunt in Locarno
Some 25,000-30,000 overnight hotel bookings are made in and around Locarno during festival time.
This represents about SFr2.5 million in revenue.
A total of 400 films will be shown at this year’s event.
Many of the films focus on topical issues.
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