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Last Updated: Monday, 5 September 2005, 15:19 GMT 16:19 UK
Venice diary: Desperately seeking George
Some of the world's biggest film stars are descending on Venice for the city's film festival - and the BBC News website's Victoria Lindrea is on their trail, not least so she can try to track down George Clooney.

GOOD LUCK GEORGE. 5 September, 1530 BST

Midway through the festival, and it's time for me to say goodbye to Venice.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz star in The Constant Gardener
Still to come - Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz

I shall miss my newfound routine, the sun, the coffee and my daily chat with the security man. "Computer?" he asks me every morning in his best English, as he passes his electronic reader across my rucksack. "Si - e pranzo (lunch)", I reply waving a bag of bananas.

Still to come at the festival are Tim Burton's Corpse Bride and, in competition, Britain's The Constant Gardener and John Turturro's musical Romance & Cigarettes, starring Kate Winslet.

So far, though, I'm delighted to say, both the Italian critics and the public appear to favour Clooney's film Good Night and Good Luck for the festival's top prize, the Golden Lion.

And they can't all be female, can they?

STARS PACK A PUNCH. 5 September, 1100 BST

It's my last day at the film festival and it promises to be a busy one.

Across Venice, hotel concierges nervously await the arrival of Cinderella Man star Russell Crowe.

Crowe, who will be joined by his co-star Renee Zellweger, has re-teamed with A Beautiful Mind director Ron Howard to play US boxer Jim Braddock - a role that should come naturally to him. Not that I'll be pointing that out at the press conference.

Ron Howard, Renee Zellweger and Russell Crowe
Crowe is promoting his film with Renee Zellweger and Ron Howard
Also in the spotlight are Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins, promoting their new film Proof, which features in competition at this year's festival.

Paltrow, reunited with Shakespeare in Love director John Madden, did not make it in the end as her flight was delayed, so she ended up being relayed to the press conference by Madden's mobile phone.

She plays Catherine, a grieving daughter haunted by fears that she has inherited her father's mental illness.

On screen she packs a punch - metaphorically speaking - but I doubt she'll prove any match for Russell.

BRING BACK GEORGE. 4 September, 2200 BST

Heath Ledger at Venice Film Festival
Heath Ledger has been doing the rounds at Venice
Another day, another encounter with Heath Ledger.

The Australian is clearly popular among his fellow actors, but he is decidedly reticent in front of the press - the photographers are complaining they can't get a decent picture of him.

And it's not as if they haven't had the opportunity.

The afternoon brought fresh prey - Britain's Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, who are at the festival to launch Cameron Crowe's new film Elizabethtown.

The Elfish one may be worshipped among teenagers, but frankly, my boat trip home was more animated than the ensuing press conference. Bring back George!

WAITING FOR HEATH LEDGER (AGAIN). 4 September, 1130 BST

Sienna Miller and friend at Venice
Casanova's after-show party was lit up by a storm
As if there wasn't enough drama round here, guests at last night's Casanova party were greeted by 18th Century dandies, acrobats and a tremendous thunder storm.

Flash bulbs could not compete as great forks of lightening lit up the sky over St Mark's Square and the Venetian lagoon. As special effects go, it was spectacular. Who needs CGI?

This morning, the sun has returned though thankfully the air is fresher than earlier in the week. The waterbus to work was loaded with deckchairs and picnic baskets as locals headed for the beach, while old boys fished off the ends of pontoons, a yacht drifted in the lagoon and church bells rang out across the city.

Back in the press room - and back to the floor. Brothers Grimm stars Matt Damon, Monica Bellucci and, you guessed it, Heath Ledger, are due at the Palazzo del Casino for a press conference at lunchtime.

Scenes from the premiere

Terry Gilliam's surreal fantasy sees Damon and Ledger playing the fictional Grimm brothers, con merchants who scour the German countryside promising to rid villages of mythical monsters - in return for a fee.

The film received a critical mauling in the States, despite Miramax hoping it could be Gilliam's most commercial movie yet.

But Bellucci, an old-fashioned Italian diva, should prove a popular diversion here in Venice.

CASANOVA EXCITEMENT. 3 September, 2000 BST

More A-list excitement on the red carpet ahead of the gala screening of Casanova.

Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons took some ecclesiastical inspiration
Following overcrowding - and alleged scuffles - at the public screening of George Clooney's Good Night and Good Luck, additional screenings have been laid on to satisfy demand.

As the great and the good of Venice took their seats in the Sala Grande, crowds lined the seafront for a glimpse of the stars.

Sienna, resplendent in a pale blue strapless gown, stood shyly alongside co-star Heath Ledger who had exchanged his earlier baseball cap for a DJ and a pair of dark glasses - more Reservoir Dogs than Casanova.

Only Jeremy Irons, who plays the spiteful Bishop Pucci in the film, stuck firmly to character in a what looked to be a fashion-inspired cassock. He certainly stood out - and let's face it, George Clooney is a hard act to follow.

Tonight, 800 VIP guests join the cast of Casanova in the Doges' Palace for a party to mark the launch of the film.

Venetian mayor Massimo Cacciari had suggested the party in the famous Venetian palace might not go ahead after the open air screening in nearby Campo San Polo was pulled by US distributors, but Hollywood got its way - again.

Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Donald Sutherland and Terry Gilliam are among the attendees. Time to buy one of those Venetian masks...

WAITING FOR CASANOVA. 3 September, 1100 BST

Bjork
Bjork stole the show from Harrison Ford
My colleagues in London will be pleased to hear it's raining. The showers that have been pounding the south of Italy all week have finally moved north. Being British - and ginger-haired - it's something of a relief, but flip-flops are treacherous on those Venetian cobbles.

This evening sees the gala screening of Lasse Hallstrom's Casanova, for which the Swedish director was given unprecedented access to film in Venice's most famous sites including St Mark's Square and the Doges' Palace. It was originally hoped that a public screening would take place in an open air square in Venice itself, but the screening was reportedly pulled by distributors Disney over piracy fears.

With locals flocking to the festival for a glimpse of ubiquitous Australian star Heath Ledger and the UK's Sienna Miller, security will no doubt be high again. Bjork may have upstaged Harrison Ford, but it will take more than a vat of Vaseline to deflect the paparazzi from Sienna.

THE DAY AFTER GEORGE. 2 September, 1855 BST

Harrison Ford
Harrison Ford joined the stars at Venice
I'm becoming blase. It's the weekend and the stars are out in force. George may have left the building, but in the last 48 hours Harrison Ford, Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal have all passed this way.

Harrison Ford is a surprise visitor to the Lido, escorting his partner Calista Flockhart to the premiere of her new film Fragile.

Tomorrow reportedly brings Russell Crowe, Matt Damon, and something for the boys, Sienna Miller - promoting her forthcoming film, Casanova.

Lasse Hallstrom's riotous romp met with laughter and applause at the press screening this evening.

High art it's not, but Venice looks stunning and the cast are clearly enjoying themselves in this preposterous but colourful comedy.

THE DAY AFTER GEORGE. 2 September, 0930 BST

There's nothing like star power, as festival chief Marco Mueller well knows. The Lido was humming last night as George Clooney hit the red carpet and worked the waiting crowds like a true Hollywood pro.

Venice 'gin palaces'
The luxury 'gin palaces' where the stars are rumoured to be staying
Everywhere I walked, I heard women chattering excitedly into mobile phones. Amid the shrieks, sighs and whirr of digital cameras, even the determinedly disinterested Italian police couldn't fail to be impressed by Clooney's charm offensive.

Word has it there was a black and white-themed party following the screening, on the island of Giudecca, home of the Cipriani hotel. Monica Bellucci, Giorgio Armani and Clooney's buddy Steven Soderbergh were among the guests - though sadly I was not.

Meanwhile, Takeshi Kitano's new work Takeshi's has been revealed as the secret film in this year's competition.

The Japanese-born director is reported to be extremely cagey about the contents of his new film, a surreal exposition which sends up his actor alter-ego "Beat" Takeshi, in the manner of Charlie Kaufman's Being John Malkovich.

I'm off to find out what he has to say at the press conference - reportedly his only public appearance for the next 12 months.

MY DATE WITH GEORGE. 1 September, 1730 BST

Last time I was in Venice I got engaged, so I had high hopes for my meeting with Signor Clooney.

George Clooney fans
Female fans (and journalists) waited for hours to see Clooney

He came, he smiled, he conquered. The press room was packed 40 minutes before the press conference was scheduled to start, to the bemusement of his predecessor on the platform, Portuguese director Manuel de Oliveira - a film-maker who, though rightly acclaimed, rarely attracts this sort of media freefall.

As the conference kicked off, George tried hard to deflect questions to his fellow cast members, David Strathairn and Patricia Clarkson, as well as producer Grant Heslov.

The (largely female) press pack were not to be distracted from their quarry. A scrum ensued as shameless reporters fell over each other to get a picture or autograph from the departing George. And without so much as a backward glance in my direction, he was gone.

George Clooney
It all got too much for the man himself
This evening, his public awaits him. By five o'clock, the ladies of Venice were already camped along the red carpet where George and cast will parade tonight ahead of the first public screening of Good Night and Good Luck.

After that, no doubt, he will return to his villa on Lake Como. Looks like I will have to turn my attention to some younger men: word has it that Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal arrive tonight. It's a hard life.

DESPERATELY SEEKING GEORGE. 1 September, 1030 BST

Heading to work in arguably the world's most romantic city is one of the many pleasures of the festival. No traffic jams, no car fumes, just the rhythm of the sea as the water bus motors out across the lagoon, the domes of St Mark's hovering in the distance.

Venice pressroom
Venice's journalists squeeze into their crowded press office...
Entering the press office brings me down to earth with a bump. The head of foreign press for the Biennale, Michela Lazzarin, told me yesterday that some 2,500 journalists are here for the film festival. The press office has just 60 computer spots.

You're meant to take a number which puts you in a queue for the next available space, but it's a system I quickly learnt to ignore - queue-barging in Italy is a national pastime. Disputes typically end with a shrug of the shoulders as journalists from around the world struggle to understand one another.

Victoria Lindrea
...while reporter Victoria Lindrea makes do with a cardboard box
Everyone appears a little disappointed that so few big name stars turned up to last night's opening gala.

Directors Ang Lee, whose film Brokeback Mountain is playing here in competition, and John Woo were among the red carpet line-up, but in terms of Hollywood glamour, it was a no-show. Marco Mueller, artistic director of the festival, has taken a lot of flak from the Italian press about the heavy Hollywood film presence - not to mention the high levels of security allegedly demanded by US producers - he must be hoping the stars will at least do him the courtesy of turning up.

DESPERATELY SEEKING GEORGE. 31 August, 2130 BST

The opening gala turned out to be a low key affair. Vietnam-born director Tsui Hark, who launched the careers of John Woo and Jet Li, was joined by leading ladies from his latest film, martial arts epic Seven Swords.

Chinese film director Tsui Hark and wife Nansun in Venice
Hark launched the careers of John Woo and Jet Li
But famous faces were few and far between and the public presence was almost outweighed by the heavy security.

On a lighter note, I've seen George - albeit on the big screen, with several hundred other journalists. Good Night and Good Luck is based on the broadcasts of renowned American journalist Edward R Murrow and reinforces Clooney's fascination with the evolution of US TV - a subject he first tackled in his directorial debut Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.

The black and white cinematography beautifully captures Fifties America, while the film illustrates well newsroom camaraderie, office politics and the creeping paranoia generated by Senator McCarthy's wilful attacks of "card-carrying" communists.

It should play well to an arthouse crowd, though with George in a vest and specs, it may not have the wider appeal of films like Ocean's Eleven.

My paparazzi sources claim the man himself is still lying low, but is scheduled to arrive on the Lido by lunchtime. Promises, promises...

DESPERATELY SEEKING GEORGE. 31 August, 1500 BST

Still no sign of George, although a press conference for his movie Good Night and Good Luck is scheduled for tomorrow, sending glossy Italian TV hosts rushing to the beach to top up their tans.

George Clooney poster in Venice
George Clooney is launching his new film Good Night, and Good Luck
Renee Zellweger, Laura Linney and Tim Robbins are also rumoured to be arriving in Venice today.

Security appears to be at the forefront of everyone's mind.

In light of Italy's involvement in Iraq and the high number of US celebrities at the festival, security has been stepped up to an unprecedented level.

Security gates have been introduced and all bags must be inspected before entering the press area in the Casino.

Police on the Lido
Could that be George in a policeman's garb?
It's a joint effort between private security firms and the Italian police, some say at the insistence of American film producers.

But it leaves the organisers in a quandary - tight security means inevitable delays to schedule, and Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein was none too pleased last year when Finding Neverland screened in the early hours of the morning.

The opening gala tonight should be the first real test - and a taste of things to come.

Meanwhile I have already been ticked off by security because my rucksack is too big - he should try hauling it around all day.

DESPERATELY SEEKING GEORGE. 31 August, 1030 BST

Word has it that George is arriving today. At least that's what the boatman told me this morning - and I've been spreading the good news among the ladies of Venice ever since.

It sounds feasible too, as the first press screening of George's new film, Good Night and Good Luck, takes place this evening. I'm rather hoping he might be there to introduce it.

Workers install the red carpet in front of the palace where the 62nd Venice Film Festival will take place
Not George Clooney - workers stripped off to lay the red carpet
It's another scorching day. As I crossed St Mark's square en route to the Lido, the queues of tourists were already gathering outside the cathedral.

Gondoliers were doffing their boaters at Japanese tour groups and pigeons descended from all sides.

On the Lido, the preparations for tonight's gala screening of Tsui Hark's Seven Swords are almost complete.

But already the beachfront is groaning under the weight of journalists, star seekers and sun seekers.

Trying to get on board the bus from the ferry to the beach was akin to squeezing on to the tube on a Monday morning.

I even saw a lady get her arm trapped in the door, accompanied by much shrieking and tutting from assembled Gucci-adorned locals.

It prompted the question, would I give my right arm for a date with George? I'll let you know.

DESPERATELY SEEKING GEORGE. 30 August, 1600 BST

It is the day before the opening of the 62nd annual film festival, the temperature is tipping 30C and the water buses are packed.

Nuns, schoolchildren, tourists and the world's press jostle aboard a ferry bound for the Lido - Venice's beach strip and home to the international film festival.

A sliver of land between the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic sea, it is a world away from ancient Venice's narrow alleys and noble palaces.

Venetians come here to escape the city's oppressive summer heat, lounge on the swathe of sand, eat ice cream and bike along the breezy seafront.

But I am here on an altogether different mission. I'm here in search of George Clooney - latter day Cary Grant, matinee idol for the 21st Century and wanton crush of countless women, just like me.

The trouble is - so far, I haven't even tracked down his publicist.

Talking to the flock of publicists at the swanky beachfront Excelsior Hotel, it appears I am not the only one in search of George - he's a regular international man of mystery.

So far the closest I have been to him is a poster for his forthcoming film, Good Night, and Good Luck (he's the one in the specs).

If we are going to be sharing Martinis at the Cipriani by the weekend, my investigative skills need to improve.

I trek the length of the seafront, tripping over wires, makeshift platforms and hurriedly assembled security gates, in the hope of catching even a minor celebrity.

But the security guards tell me it is still too early for star-spotting. Celebrities like to make an entrance, and the festival has not even begun.

Better luck tomorrow - and who knows who I might meet over dinner.


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