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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 August 2006, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
Film festival looks to the future
By Victoria Lindrea
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Scarlett Johansson in The Black Dahlia
Johansson stars in opening film The Black Dahlia

Marco Mueller, artistic director of the Venice Film Festival is looking forward to another bumper year, as the annual event kicks off on Wednesday.

"We had a very good edition last year and this year we'll strive to do even better," said Mueller, whose second year in charge saw him overcome the lengthy screening delays and celebrity spats of 2004.

Last year proved an artistic triumph with 23 of the films screened at the festival going on to receive Oscar nominations, and a wealth of global film talent descending on the city's beachfront.

Good Night, and Good Luck, The Constant Gardener and eventual Golden Lion winner Brokeback Mountain were among the featured films which performed strongly at the Academy Awards earlier this year.

International

Films in this year's competition include Brian De Palma's The Black Dahlia, Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men and British director Stephen Frears's The Queen.

And for the first time in 63 years, all 21 films shortlisted for the Golden Lion will receive their world premiere at the film festival.

Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in Brokeback Mountain
Brokeback Mountain won the top prize at Venice last year

An additional 300 films applied for this year's selection, with US films like Emilio Estevez's Bobby and Darren Arnofsky's The Fountain fighting for competition slots.

"This is one of the strongest and most international selections we've had," Mueller told a press conference in July. "All the films we wanted in Venice are here."

"It is a vote of confidence in this event."

It also silences critics like his predecessor Moritz de Hadeln who opposed the decision to open the festival with Steven Spielberg's The Terminal in 2004.

"Why should American journalists come to see work already released at home?" De Hadeln asked, and he was not alone in his opinion.

Star power

Star power continues to be a major component in Mueller's strategy, with Meryl Streep, Sharon Stone and Nicolas Cage all scheduled to attend this year's festival.

But claims that Mueller has played the Hollywood hand too firmly are countered by the announcement that for the first time this year's festival will include films from Chad, Cyprus and Indonesia.

Still, the pressure is by no means off. Mueller has threatened to step down at the end of his tenure, in 2007, if funding cannot be found to build new festival headquarters.

Palazzo del Cinema, Venice
The Palazzo del Cinema overlooks Venice's beachfront

Built in 1937, the Palazzo del Cinema has been the Festival's principal home for 60 years, but the fascist-era palace is no longer fit for purpose.

So far plans for a new iceberg-shaped venue, costing 100m euros, remain on the drawing board.

Organisers believe Venice must address its crumbling infrastructure if it is to attract more distributors and producers.

Despite being the oldest film festival in the world, it has always lagged behind Cannes and Berlin when it comes to the film market.

Market forces

This year, further competition has arrived in the shape of a rival film festival in Rome, which launches in October.

The rivalry between the two Italian festivals has been played down, but with a budget of 8.6m euros - a little under Venice purported budget of 10m - Rome certainly has the potential to damage the older festival's standing.

George Clooney, at the Venice Film Festival in 2005
Clooney proved a major crowd-pleaser at the festival in 2005

Venice may be one of the world's most celebrated cities, but Rome is home to the legendary Cinecitta film studios and a natural stopover for film producers.

"Unless the Lido gets new infrastructure, we won't be able to compete with Rome on an even keel. We will sink," said Venice mayor Massimo Cacciari last year.

Nonetheless, bosses at the Venice Film Festival remain optimistic.

The daring season of premieres combined with reports that Italy's new centre-left government has finally committed funds to rebuilding the festival's infrastructure, and a 40% boost in private sponsorship, suggest Venice is far from sunk.

And if all else fails, they could just bring back George Clooney.


SEE ALSO
Premieres to vie for Venice glory
27 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
Johansson thriller to open Venice
24 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
Lynch to receive Venice honour
08 Jul 06 |  Entertainment
Deneuve to head Venice film jury
15 Jun 06 |  Entertainment
Rome mayor launches film festival
27 Jan 06 |  Entertainment
HQ woes for Venice Film Festival
11 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
Film Festival Guide
10 May 05 |  Entertainment

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