by Roderick Conway Morris

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This year in Venice, a nod to Hollywood

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 12 September 2006


Some of those attending the Venice film festival this year will be more welcome than others. Globalization opponents and possibly chemical workers facing layoffs are planning demonstrations. Meanwhile, with the prospect of a new film festival starting in Rome in October looming larger on the horizon, Venice is turning on a charm offensive, directed particularly, it seems, at the New World.

Gone are the days when 'arty' Venice routinely placed American productions in out-of-competition and midnight movie categories. The opening film, to be shown Wednesday evening, followed by a lavish party on the beach of the Excelsior Hotel, will be Brian De Palma's 'The Black Dahlia,' starring Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Swank and Josh Hartnett, who are scheduled to attend with many other big names to follow in the coming days.

Originally rumored to be destined for Rome, the film is in competition at De Palma's request, according to Marco Müller, now in his third year as artistic director. Four other American films are on the 21-film competition list (plus an unnamed 'surprise film'). The closing film, to be shown out of competition Sept. 9, will be 'Ostrov,' by the Russian director Pavel Lounguine.

'The Black Dahlia' is an adaptation of James Ellroy's book, which is based on a true murder story. It will be contending with another Los Angeles suicide/ murder mystery, 'Hollywoodland,' directed by Allen Coulter, the producer of the American television shows 'The Sopranos' and 'Sex and the City,' about the death of the 1950s Superman star George Reeves (played by Ben Affleck).

With a further nod to Hollywood, organizers noted that films shown here last year went on to garner 23 Academy Award nominations.

Müller said that for the first time all of the in-competition films will be genuine world premieres, including 11 by debut directors.

The Roman film industry has long complained that its productions do not get sufficient exposure at Venice, nor win enough prizes. This has been a major factor in the creation of the new Rome filmfest, where more space is promised for local films. At the same time, Rome has been anxious to establish its international credentials. Nicole Kidman is to preside over the festival's the opening, and Sean Connery is to be honored with Rome's first award for lifetime achievement, to be accompanied by a retrospective of his films. Davide Croff, the administrative head of the Venice Biennale - which presides over the filmfest on the Lido, as well as over the mega Visual Arts show and other cultural events - has given the impression of running with the fox and hunting with the hounds by accepting a position on the foundation committee of the Rome film festival.

The principal fear of Venice officials is that dwindling public funds will end up being divided between two national festivals, to the benefit of neither. And this at a time when Venice is about to embark on a much-needed and expensive rebuilding of its festival site. Francesco Rutelli, Italy's new culture minister and the former mayor of Rome, has already challenged Venice officials by proclaiming Rome's success in attracting private sponsorship, although Venice officials say they have managed to increase private funding by 40 percent this year.

Security at the Venice festival will be the tightest ever, with bag restrictions and squads of armed police and bomb disposal experts dispatched to search screening spaces before each performance. Nonetheless, on Friday a group of young globalization opponents and environmentalists managed to occupy a stretch of shoreline on the Lido assigned for the use of off-duty police officers. The so-called 'No Globals' are preparing to use this beachhead to demonstrate against the construction of moveable barriers across the lagoon's channels into the Adriatic intended to protect the city against tidal surges.

Workers at a lagoon-side industrial plant in Marghera owned by Dow Chemical also threatened to disrupt the festival. The would-be protesters face layoffs as a result of the unit's proposed closure. This raises the prospect of an explosive convergence of protesting chemical workers and No Globals, who would like to see Marghera's entire petrochemicals complex shut down.

Meanwhile, a gay rights group announced it would hold a review of upcoming gay films at a movie theater on the Lido to coincide with the main filmfest. Tinto Brass, the Italian maker of soft-to-medium-core porn films, gave notice that he would stage his own filmfest with free showings of his latest production and a selection of other adult movies on the Blue Moon section of the beach.

Amid the blasts and counterblasts among various representatives of gay rights, the Catholic Church and political parties, the main festival announced that beginning next year one of the festival's secondary prizes would be awarded to the best film on a gay theme.

For the event this year, selectors viewed 1,429 full- length features, 300 more than last year. Twenty-seven countries are represented, with Chad and Thailand in competition for the first time. The United States leads the films being screened with 13 full- length features, followed by Italy with 10 and Japan with 6. There will be only one Golden Lion for career achievement this year, to be awarded to David Lynch.

One of the most extensive sidebar categories will be 'The Secret Story of Russian Cinema,' consisting of 18 Soviet musical dramas from the archives (10 of which have been restored) in a joint Italian-Russian project supported by the Prada Foundation. These include the 1938 'Volga, Volga,' Stalin's favorite Russian film (he was also a fan of John Ford westerns and of Charlie Chaplin). The dictator used to sing along with these Russian musicals in his private cinema. But his enjoyment of 'Volga, Volga' did not save its librettist, Nikolai Erdman, from being packed off into exile for his pains.

The Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira was already in his mid-40s when Stalin died in 1953, yet is still making films screened in Venice year after year as artistic directors come and go. His latest, 'Belle Toujours,' billed as a sequel to Luis Buñuel's 'Belle de Jour,' is to be screened out of competition this year. So the toujours belle Catherine Deneuve, star of the original, who leads the Golden Lion jury, will be spared the need to give it the thumbs up or down.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2023