by Roderick Conway Morris

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La Biennale de Venezia
Since plans for a new, multimillion-euro cinema palace
were abandoned two years ago,
the Venice Film Festival's main theater, the Sala Grande,
has been completely refurbished.

For Venice Film Festival, More Seats, Fewer Movies

By Roderick Conway Morris
VENICE 28 August 2013


We need to emphasize our difference, our special qualities,' Paolo Baratta, the president of the Venice Biennale, said in an interview at the Biennale's headquarters here on the Grand Canal.

'For one thing the Venice Film Festival does not take place in a city but in a more relaxed place and atmosphere than the other major festivals. But we need to innovate to hold our position in the world of cinema.'

Founded and run by the Biennale, the world's oldest film festival opens this year on Wednesday and runs through Sept. 7.

A major challenge that Mr. Baratta has faced has been the reorganization of the festival's site on the Lido. Since plans for a new, multimillion-euro cinema palace were abandoned two years ago, Mr. Baratta has presided over the complete refurbishment of the Sala Grande in a suitably retro style, while technically upgrading it with the latest projection and sound equipment. The Palazzo del Cinema, which houses the Sala Grande, dates to the 1930s.

'The Sala Grande has the great advantage that it has no balcony and is a single continuous space,' Mr. Baratta said. 'So the directors, producers and actors of the delegations of the films shown there feel themselves in close contact with the public, and the public with them. It was designed by an acoustic engineer and it is still one of the best film auditoriums anywhere.'

This year the first stage of the next project has been completed, with a remodeling of the casino building next door to the Palazzo del Cinema and the addition of urgently needed extra seating and screening capacity. Now the existing 500-seat Sala Perla at the rear of the main entrance hall is flanked by two additional 150-seat auditoriums and plans to add a 500-seat theater above the Sala Perla are in their final stages. And by next year's festival, Mr. Baratta said, €6 million, or $8 million, will have been spent on the updating of the Sala Darsena, where media screenings are held, increasing its capacity from 1,300 to 1,430 seats.

The worldwide reach of the festival will also increase with the second edition of a program called Web Theater, initiated last year. Twelve of the films that are to be premiered in the Orizzonti (Horizons) sidebar section, which showcases new talent and more experimental productions, will be accessible online for a 24-hour period on the day of their first showing, with a limited number of 500 'seats,' at €4.00 each, available for each film.

A significant improvement for all attending the festival this year, Mr. Baratta added, is that the Biennale has taken over the entire space between the casino and the sea, including a large, breezy terrace that offers a panoramic view of the Adriatic. The area will be a public space, with a bar, shaded areas and seating, where festivalgoers can take a break from movie-watching.

Continuing as the artistic director of the festival since his reappointment in 2012, Alberto Barbera and his team have for this edition viewed 3,470 films, 1,534 of them full-length features.

The 2013 festival will start and finish with premieres of out-of-competition 3-D productions. The opener will be Alfonso Cuarón's 'Gravity,' a space thriller starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. The director's 2001 international hit 'Y tu mamá también' had its premiere in competition, as did his 'Children of Men,' in 2006. The closer will be the French documentary director Thierry Ragobert's 'Amazonia' about a monkey raised in captivity that, after a plane crash, finds itself fighting for survival in the wild.

Mr. Barbera has continued his policy of drastically reducing the number of films in the three main categories - in competition, out of competition and Horizons - from the number shown by his predecessor. This year there are a total of 55, of which 53 will be world premieres and two international premieres, from 33 nations.

There are 20 in-competition films by directors from Algeria, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Taiwan and the United States. The last of those has the largest presence, with seven productions, including films directed by James Franco, Terry Gilliam, Jonathan Glazer, David Gordon Green, Peter Landesman, Errol Morris and Kelly Reichardt (two of these are joint productions with Britain).

Two documentaries are appearing on the list for the first time: Errol Morris's 'The Unknown Known,' an extended interview with Donald Rumsfeld, and Gianfranco Rosi's 'Sacro GRA,' the result of a year spent in a camper van on Rome's unlovely ring road, the Grande Raccordo Anulare of the title. There is one animated film: 'Kaze Tachinu' by Hayao Miyazaki.

There are two debut features in competition. Directed by the actress, theater director and writer Emma Dante, 'Via Castellana Bandiera' is adapted from her own novel about an elderly Albanian woman and a young woman from Milan brought together when their cars meet nose to nose in a narrow street in Palermo.

The writer and journalist Peter Landesman's 'Parkland' is also based on a book, Vincent Bugliosi's massive 'Reclaiming History: The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy,' and relates the events at the Parkland Hospital in Dallas on the day of the shooting of the president, with a cast that includes Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden and Paul Giamatti.

Other in-competition films are also led by big Hollywood names. Scarlett Johansson won the best actress award at Venice when she appeared in Sofia Coppola's 'Lost in Translation' in the 'Upstream' category in 2003 at the age of 18. She returns in Jonathan Glazer's 'Under the Skin' as an extraterrestrial femme fatale who uses her beauty to entrap her victims.

Nicolas Cage stars in 'Joe,' based on the novel by Larry Brown, as a man with a troubled past who teams up with a teenage boy, Gary (played by Tye Sheridan). And the two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz plays a solitary computer hacker in Terry Gilliam's futuristic 'The Zero Theorem,' along with Matt Damon, Tilda Swinton, Mélanie Thierry, Ben Whishaw and David Thewlis.

There are nine out-of-competition features and the same number of full-length documentaries in this category. Among the features is the South Korean director Kim Ki-duk's 'Moebius.' His ingenious but extremely violent 'Pietà' won the Golden Lion last year. Mr. Kim's latest offering was refused a certificate even for adult viewing in his home country until an incestuous sex scene had been cut.

In 1984, Edgar Reitz's landmark television series 'Heimat,' an epic depiction of Germany in the 20th century, had its premiere in Venice, and he has come back regularly since to present sequels. He returns with 'Die Andere Heimat: Chronik einer Sehnsucht' (Home from Home: Chronicle of a Vision), a prequel, set in the 19th century.

Also to be shown in this list is Paul Schrader's 'The Canyons,' with Lindsay Lohan and a script by Bret Easton Ellis. Mr. Schrader will also be chairing the 'Horizons' jury.

Among the films he will be judging are 'Je m'appelle Hmmm ...' by the French fashion designer Agnès B., a drama about an 11-year-old girl who escapes a pedophile father, and 'Palo Alto,' Francis Ford Coppola's granddaughter Gia Coppola's debut feature, inspired by the collection of stories of the same title by James Franco.

The Golden Lion jury this year will include three directors, three actors, a director of photography and a composer and will be presided over by Bernardo Bertolucci.

First published: International Herald Tribune

© Roderick Conway Morris 1975-2024