Swiss film fest with Asian touch to show banned zombie movie

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Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival opened on Wednesday for 10 days of art-house movies, including a premiere for an explicit gay alien zombie movie that was sidelined by Australian censors last month.

New artistic director Olivier Père and his team have kept up the annual southern Swiss festival’s tradition of showcasing upcoming talent and introducing new movies from around the world, including Asia, to European audiences.

The 18 films in the keynote international competition feature French director Christophe Honore’s "Homme au Bain" (Man at Bath) with Chiara Mastroianni, as well as a world premiere for Chinese director Li Hongqi’s "Han Jia" (Winter Vacation).

Xu Xin’s 356 minute-long documentary "Karamay," about a fire at a Chinese theater in 2006 that killed more than 300, is also competing, hailed by Pere as "monumental not only in terms of its length, but above all in its emotional and political impact."

But this year’s jury for the "Pardo d’Oro" (Golden Leopard) award, led by Singaporean filmmaker Eric Khoo, also has to grapple with more controversial fare in the form of Canadian director Bruce LaBruce’s "L.A Zombie."

Produced by German adult movie company Wurstfilm, it stars French porn actor Francois Sagat — who also leads in "Homme au Bain" — as a man convinced he is an alien zombie sent to Earth to roam the streets of Los Angeles in search of dead bodies and gay sex.

The film prompted problems with Australia’s film board that stopped it being screened at this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival, despite claims by festival director Richard Moore that it was a "video art zombie film."

Mastroianni, 38, daughter of legendary French actress Catherine Deneuve and the late Italian heartthrob Marcello Mastroianni, will also pick up an Excellence Award at Locarno, joining a long line of international stars such as Willem Defoe, John Malkovich and Susan Sarandon.

China’s Jia Zhang-ke, dubbed "one of the major revelations of the last two decades and one of the greatest filmmakers working today" by the festival organizers, is also due to pick up an honorary "Pardo d’Onore" for his career.

Locarno, one of Europe’s oldest film festivals alongside Cannes and Venice, also features showcase starlight screenings for up to 8,000 in the southern lakeside town’s renaissance square, close to the Italian border.

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