Back to Stay: Top Award at 2011 Locarno Film Fest

Argentine-Swiss drama “Back to Stay” (“Abrir Puertas y Ventanas”) received two Locarno Leopards Saturday evening when first-time director Milagros Mumenthaler picked up the best film prize and her lead thesper Maria Canale took the top actress award.

Mumenthaler shares the $117,000 (90,000 Swiss francs) with producers Violeta Bava, David Epiney, Rosa Martinez Rivero, and Eugenia Mumenthaler. The close of the 64th edition was a notably celebratory event on the Piazza Grande, where an enthusiastic public cheered not just the prizes but the hard-working projectionist.

Other prizes in the international competition, handed out by jury prexy Paulo Branco, went to Romanian Adrian Sitaru for top director with “Best Intentions” (carrying a purse of $39,000) and the helmer’s star Bogdan Dumitrache, who picked up the best male lead. Israeli director Nadav Lapid won the jury prize ($39,000) for “Policeman,” and for the first time the jury handed out a Special Golden Leopard prize, given to Japanese helmer Shinji Aoyama in recognition of his career as well as his competish pic “Tokyo Park.” Mia Hansen-Love’s Cannes preemed “Goodbye First Love” was singled out for a Special Mention.

In the Cinema of the Present section, the top award was given to “Summer of Giacomo” directed by Italo helmer Alessandro Comodin, while the Jury Prize went to Santiago Mitre’s “The Student,” from Argentina. Both prizes have a $39,000 purse. Special Mention went to Portuguese docu “It’s the Earth not the Moon,” directed by Goncalo Tocha.

The Variety Piazza Grande award, given in recognition of a world or international premiere combining commercial viability with artistic qualities, was handed to Canadian French-lingo pic “Mr. Lazhar,” directed by Philippe Falardeau. The film proved a success with the public as well, who voted it their top honor and a purse, sponsored by Swiss bank UBS, of $39,000. Rounding out the top awards was best first feature, given to French photographer-turned-helmer Valerie Massadian for “Nana.”

In his second year as the fest’s artistic topper, Olivier Pere brought a notable increase in U.S. presence to the shores of Lake Maggiore, not just with films including the European premieres of “Cowboys & Aliens” and Sundance preemed “Terri,” but A-list stars Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig plus vet producer Mike Medavoy. Also making appearances on the Piazza Grande were Leslie Caron, adding star wattage to the fest’s Vincente Minnelli retrospective, as well as Gerard Depardieu, Isabelle Huppert, Magali Noel and Claudia Cardinale.

Locarno’s industry side, under the guidance of Nadia Dresti, saw an upsurge in enrollment, with 951 professionals including 251 buyers attending a jam-packed schedule of dedicated screenings. The Open Doors section this year spotlit projects from India and Colombia.