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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 01:37 GMT 02:37 UK
Venice builds on star glamour
Gwyneth Paltrow
Gwyneth Paltrow's new film Proof will compete at this year's festival
Until recently, it was hard to say what defined Venice among the multiple film festivals that crowd the industry calendar.

Organisers clung firmly to its status as the oldest film festival in the world, with its origins stretching back to 1932.

But the truth was, among the plethora of international festivals, it had become increasingly difficult for Venice to make a splash.

Once the vanguard of European cinema, it was quickly superseded by Cannes in the 1950s with Brigitte Bardot baring bronzed limbs on the French Riviera.

To add insult to injury, Venice's impact on the film-making industry was diminished by the growing influence of international film festivals in Toronto and Berlin.

Juliette Binoche
Binoche stars out of competition in the provocative new film Mary
In the independent sector, it was being overshadowed by Robert Redford's Sundance Festival and New York's Tribeca Film Festival.

But as a glamorous celebrity shindig in Italy's ravishing city of canals, Venice has had few rivals - and it is with this in mind that the festival has reinvented itself.

This year sees the festival host more Hollywood premieres than ever before, with Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm and Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain among the highlights.

"This shows how important Venice now is for American cinema," said artistic director Marco Mueller announcing the nine US premieres.

Mr Mueller took over last year from previous artistic director Moritz de Hadeln, who had been in the role for just two years, and who left what some saw as a poisoned chalice for his successor.

Mr de Hadeln, a former director of Berlin Film Festival and the first non-Italian in the post, was scorned by the local film-making industry. He complained of political interference and commercial apathy.

Artistic director's background
An Italian-Swiss film producer who is fluent in 10 languages
Former head of the Locarno and Rotterdam Film Festivals, and consultant to Venice
A specialist in Asian and Third World cinema
Successful producer whose films include the Oscar-winning No Man's Land
The first Venice Festival director to be given a four-year mandate since 1992
"I started with great enthusiasm, but today I have to confess a certain frustration. Venice is a city which sinks everything," Mr de Hadeln said ahead of the festival in 2003.

Like his predecessor, Mr Mueller believed the festival needed "a shake-up" to reassert itself in the public imagination, and most particularly among US distributors.

He chose the 2004 programme with one eye on stimulating film-making and another on the potent celebrity factor.

Publicity-wise at least, the festival made waves.

Shark Tale premiered on giant inflatable screens in St Mark's Square and Lauren Bacall's public snub to Birth co-star Nicole Kidman secured headlines around the world.

Al Pacino missed out on a seat to his own premiere of The Merchant of Venice.

Tom Hanks arriving at the Venice Film Festival in 2004
Tom Hanks was in Venice to premiere The Terminal last year
And on the same night, Miramax boss Harvey Weinstein threatened to encase the festival director's feet in cement and drown him in the lagoon after the Finding Neverland screening was delayed into the small hours.

Importantly, amid all the celebrity bombast, the festival also found favour with independent film-makers when Mike Leigh's abortion drama Vera Drake won the Golden Lion.

But not everyone was happy with the change of direction.

Anti-capitalist protesters denounced the heavy Hollywood presence, local press bemoaned the lack of Italian talent and heightened security and overcrowding threw up a whole new set of problems.

This year, Mr Mueller has promised a more streamlined affair, reducing the number of films by 30% and culling the event to three key sections: In Competition, Out of Competition and the Horizons section for experimental films.

Monica Belluci and Heath Ledger
Venice beckons for Grimm stars Monica Bellucci and Heath Ledger

"Venice is a festival of big films and big name directors, we have glamour and glitz, but we are also very much a public festival," he said.

With stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney and Matt Damon flocking to Venice, the festival's fortunes are in stark contrast to gloomy predictions of the festival's demise in 2003.

Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins, Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes are also rumoured to be at the festival, while a raft of hungry new stars and some provocative films promise an exciting 11 days.

Mr Mueller looks as if he might have escaped those concrete shoes for another year.

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28 Jul 05 |  Entertainment
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13 Sep 04 |  Entertainment
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08 Sep 04 |  Entertainment
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02 Sep 04 |  Entertainment
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10 May 05 |  Entertainment


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