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Locarno in Los Angeles returns for its fifth edition today, and co-director Bob Koehler promises films “that you can’t peg, slot, define, categorize, put in a file.”

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this summer, the Locarno Film Festival takes place each August in Locarno, Switzerland, which is located in the Italian-speaking section of the small country. Locarno in Los Angeles, a smaller satellite festival, is back tonight after a pandemic year off with a screening of Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash, an Indonesian action film from the single-named director Edwin.

“There’s no other American festival that organizes itself on the principle that we’re going to curate a major European or major world festival,” Koehler says.

Locarno in Los Angeles has overcome several challenges, including the fact that the main Locarno Film Festival has had three different artistic directors since Locarno in L.A. was founded.

“It hasn’t always been clear if we were going to continue it,” Locarno in Los Angeles artistic director Jordan Cronk says. “But luckily, each new director has put their own spin on the programming, but also kept true to the Locarno philosophy that we were interested in to begin with.”

That Locarno philosophy focuses on “surprise” and “adventure,” Koehler says.

In this year’s program of 12 films, Koehler cites Abel Ferrara’s Zeros and Ones, starring Ethan Hawke, as indicative of that core philosophy. He also praises Giovanni Cioni’s “semi-nonfiction film” From the Planet of the Humans. “You know you’ve never seen anything quite like it before,” he says.

On Friday, Ferrara will participate in a virtual Q&A along with cinematographer Sean Price Williams, the film’s editors and composer. Anyone who has ever experienced a live Q&A with Ferrara knows this is sure to be a highlight of the festival.

Zeros and Ones and other films in the program illustrate a shift to more genre-focused cinema. Locarno Film Festival artistic director Giona A. Nazzaro has been very upfront about this shift since he took over for the departing Lili Hinstin in November 2020.

Vengeance is Mine and Zeros and Ones — these are action movies and thrillers. There’s an anime film [Belle]. Medea is psychological thriller. So there’s a lot of genre in this one,” Cronk says. “They’re still art films, they’re just taking on different forms.”

Also read: Abel Ferrara: Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker

Cronk and Koehler are confident in the audience they’ve cultivated through the festival and their Acropolis screening series.

“We have a pretty good sense of what our audience is. The audience has grown. It’s developed. It’s diversified,” Koehler says.

“So you get a pretty good idea of what is going to work with our audience and what’s not,” he continues. “And you also want to surprise them. You want to continue that Locarno spirit of surprising with some unexpected stuff. There’s probably more unexpected movies in this lineup than we’ve had previously — stuff that our audience would not have typically expected this program to include.”

Locarno in Los Angeles runs today through Sunday at the 2220 Arts + Archives in Los Angeles.