Page last updated at 09:00 GMT, Sunday, 6 September 2009 10:00 UK

Reporter's log: Venice 2009

BBC reporter Keily Oakes
BBC reporter Keily Oakes in St Mark's Square, Venice

Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and George Clooney are just some of the stars attending the 66th Venice Film Festival.

There are 24 films in competition for the festival's prestigious Golden Lion prize - which will be awarded by a jury headed by Taiwanese-born director Ang Lee.

BBC News entertainment reporter Keily Oakes is spending a brief stint on the Lido, filing regular updates on the sights, sounds and stars of the 66th year of the cinematic bonanza.


Well it's my last few hours in Venice and the sun is back out shining again.

It has been a great experience being part of such a lively festival.

I have to say that there haven't been many big star names making an appearance here during the opening end of the gala, although I apparently missed Paris Hilton and Mel B traipsing down the red carpet the other night for The Bad Lieutenant premiere.

Paris Hilton
I missed Paris Hilton on the red carpet for The Bad Lieutenant premiere

Obviously neither of them are here to promote movies, I think Hilton's doing some promotion for some jewellery company or other.

I went along to the Desert Flower party last night and while I was there none of the film's stars put in appearance, but there was free champagne!

The Michael Moore screening last night was packed out as the media wanted to get a first look at what he's been up to since he released Sicko several years ago. He's uncovered some really fascinating human interest stories about how the economic meltdown has affected middle class America. But he didn't really offer up any solutions for what could replace the capitalist model he so detests.

There's still plenty more happening during the final week of the festival, with half of the competition films still to have their premieres. There is also the first showing of Disney Pixar's 3D version of Toy Story, which will pave the way for Toy Story 3 which is currently in production.

So I bid farewell to Venice as I head for the airport and London, sadly leaving the glitz and glamour of this place to carry on without me.

Michael Moore
Capitalism: A Love Story is Moore's first film since 2007's Sicko

At an afternoon talk Michael Moore was once again on his soap box, and this time has in his sights corporate America, blaming it for allowing millions of Americans to lose their jobs while the money men were the last to suffer.

He also turned his infamous aggression on the media, failing to understand how newspapers did not see the global meltdown coming. He considers it the fault of newspapers that there is such a high population of Americans that are "functioning illiterates". And obviously, George Bush gets a lot of stick as well.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, he is a fascinating raconteur but there is always that underlying thought that this is a multi-millionaire who has successfully used the system to his financial and artistic advantage.

It is the first press screening of Capitalism: A Love Story, and no doubt there will be some shocking revelations.


At his second press conference in two days Werner Herzog went into a bit more detail about his latest film to be entered into competition, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done - unfortunately there was no time time to ask him why the dreadful name.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
The film stars Michael Shannon and Willem Dafoe

The film, based on the true story of an insane man who kills his mother, went into production after a chat with David Lynch about the prohibitive costs involved in movie-making.

They agreed there should be a manifesto that films should be made for under $2m (£1.2m), and Herzog's took up the idea for this project.

Although he said it was shot "guerrilla style", with Peru and China among the settings and Willem Dafoe and Chloe Sevigny in the cast, I find it hard to believe they could stick to that budget.

Asked how he feels about having two films competing against each other, he said "well Venice never accepted any of my films into competition for nearly four decades".

The weather in Venice today has taken a turn for the worse. It's windy and cold and definitely cardigan weather, which is unfortunate as it's my last full day here. But at least the milder weather might stop so many mosquitoes attacking me.

I've also had to take my beloved bike back to the hire shop, but I have worked out the buses so won't be travelling in the wrong direction again - I hope!


An early morning screening of Hong Kong film Accident, which is showing in competition, saw the audience faced with brutal death from the opening seconds. The film is about a team of hitmen (and a woman) who carry out hits and make them look like bizarre accidents.

Although there are moments of extreme gore, it was actually a complex and clever film. You really had to concentrate on the action to see how the deaths were being set up, or if indeed there were really just accidents.

The surprise entry for the Golden Lion competition has been announced as My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, from German director Werner Herzog. This is his second film in this year's contest, joining Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans. And yes it is another terrible title.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, stars Chloe Sevigny, Willem Defoe and Michael Shannon, and is billed as "a story of ancient myth and modern madness". Herzog himself describes it as a horror film without the "blood, chainsaws and gore", and it all sounds a bit bonkers.

BBC reporter Keily Oakes
On my hired bike around and about in Venice

I finally made it in to Venice proper to see some of the historical sights it has to offer. It is just across the water from the Lido where the festival is taking place, but it seems a million miles away in terms of architectural beauty.

That said, it is also swarming with tourists, myself adding to the numbers, and there is a lot of building and restoration work going on around the main attractions, detracting from any feeling of stepping back in time.

But it is still fascinating to walk around the canals that you have seen so many times in films. Many of the streets look like they have been created for a movie set, such is its charm.

Tomorrow sees the arrival of some big name stars to the festival, including director George Lucas, in town to honour Pixar with a lifetime achievement honour, and Michael Moore, who will be heavily promoting his latest documentary Capital: A Love Story.

No doubt he will have some pretty strong opinions on the present state of the world.


I finally met Waris Dirie and, my goodness, she was one scary lady. I'm not sure what I expected, but she turned out to be quite a harsh person - with trust issues. Although I support her campaign against female circumcision and obviously cannot understand her personal struggles, her personality makes it difficult to warm to her.

In contrast, the actress that plays her in the film Desert Flower, Liya Kebede, was sweet and welcoming, and made me wish she was the real Waris that I had been so excited to meet.

(l-r) Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Werner Herzog
German director Werner Herzog joined Bad Lieutenant stars Mendes and Cage

Director Yonfan was a lovely man to interview. But I felt more than a little embarrassed when I politely asked how his English was, to which he modestly replied "so-so" and then launched into a discussion about post-modernism in film.

A press conference for the remake of The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call: New Orleans (terrible name) saw its stars Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes and director Werner Herzog face the world's media.

Herzog didn't seem at all embarrassed to admit that he was unfamiliar with the work of the film's originator Abel Ferrara - himself exhibiting at the festival, but said they should "get together over a bottle of whiskey".

Cage really likes to talk about "his craft" and spent a great deal of time explaining how he and Herzog created his role, right down to how one shoulder should be slightly dipped, and how he was born in Los Angeles but "reborn in New Orleans".

Yonfan, Terry Kwan (l) and Xuan Zhu
Director Yonfan was joined by actresses Terry Kwan (l) and Xuan Zhu

Went to an early morning screening of Prince of Tears, a Taiwanese film depicting a time called "white terror" when suspected pro-communists were rooted out and punished, often by death.

Based on a true story, despite its traumatic subject matter it managed to remain upbeat and raise a smile. Later on I'm interviewing its director Yonfan, and have about 10 minutes to research his work.

British actress Shirley Henderson is being interviewed next to me by a group of journalists. While the rest of us are sweltering in the late morning heat, the tiny actress arrives in jeans, long-sleeved top, socks and sandals - and carrying a padded coat!

She really does look like a child so its no wonder she's been cast in the TV film May Contain Nuts. Based on the book by John O'Farrell, it centres around a mum who is so pushy she decides to sit her daughter's 11+ exam for her, and nobody notices there's a grown woman in the exam room.


Today I'm excited at the prospect of meeting supermodel Waris Dirie. Her story of escaping a nomadic life in Somalia to becoming a UN ambassador speaking out on the subject of female circumcision is truly inspirational.

I saw Desert Flower before arriving in Venice and while it starts out as a feel-good movie, it actually becomes quite harrowing with the depiction of Waris's experiences of circumcision at such a young age.

I'm glad I didn't see the film out here as I would have jumped on a plane straight home to give my daughter a hug, such was the profound effect the film had on me when I saw it in London. I have so many questions to ask her about her fascinating life.

Firstly though, to a screening of Prince of Tears, a Taiwanese film which I admit to knowing nothing about!

Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee
Mortensen praised his young co-star's professionalism

I milled around the red carpet tonight for the premiere of The Road. There are so many premieres going on that they have to share the same red carpet on the same night and this led to a bit of confusion on my part when some impossibly beautiful Italian actresses and actors came out. I still haven't fathomed who they were or what they were promoting but the Italian crowd loved them.

Viggo Mortenson finally made an appearance along with his young Australian co-star Kodi Smit-Mcphee.

Viggo had a protective arm around his young charge while they were photographed by the 50 or so snappers in the camera pen. He had earlier gushed about how talented Kodi was, calling him mature beyond his years.

"We had a great connection, not just as friends, we became great friends, but also a professional relationship," he said.

"He is someone who did things every day beyond his years. I didn't really think of him as a child actor but as someone who was very mature, very quick on his feet, very open-minded. And also, very important for a shoot like this, he always managed to combine a kid's urge to have fun and make practical jokes and goof around, with complete focus as an actor."

Unlike usual premieres it was only the top stars who got to walk the red carpet, with other guests ushered round the side, out of view.

Harvey Weinstein made an appearance, and was obviously not ushered out of sight, and he certainly scrubbed up well in his tuxedo.

Unfortunately there were no other stars from the film on display. No Guy Pearce, no Charlize Theron and no Omar - I mean Michael K Williams - making another appearance in a festival film.

The red carpet bit took so long I actually missed the opportunity to get into the screening. The upside was I got the chance to taste some authentic Italian spaghetti instead.


Just spotted Harvey Weinstein, the boss of Miramax films, wandering about near the Excelsior Hotel, which is where a lot of wheeling and dealing gets done.

Despite being one of the most influential men in independent cinema, and presumably one of the wealthiest, he comes from the Simon Cowell school of fashion - sporting an unassuming white T-shirt and jeans - but with a phone glued to his ear.

His Weinstein Company is promoting The Road, based on Cormac McCarthy's grim futuristic thriller. The story of a man's struggle to keep his son alive when everything else around is dying, it sounds like a tough watch. But the film's star Viggo Mortenson assures us it is really about the relationship between a father and a son.

Both he and director John Hillcoat said they were drawn to the script because it made them think of their own children, while screenwriter Joe Penhall, also said the birth of his son, and the death of his father, was the reason he wanted to adapt the novel.

Despite earlier reservations about the subject, and not being a big fan of sci-fi, I'm actually looking forward to seeing the film tonight.

Todd Solondz
Life During Wartime is directed by Venice regular Todd Solondz

After Life During Wartime finally got underway, about 30 minutes late, the technical difficulties continued with the Italian subtitles on a delay from the actual speech. It probably wouldn't have been so bad if it had been an all-action movie, but this was an arty film, which relied entirely on speech to get any sense of what the hell was going on.

This was fine for me, but the largely Italian audience were understandably upset and despite many attempts to get it stopped, with loud catcalls, the screening just carried on out of sync. At one point the subtitles did pop back into time, but only briefly.

Life During Wartime was a quirky and at times uncomfortable watch, with themes of suicide and paedophilia - but it had some lighter, laugh out loud moments mixed in.

Alison Janney was, as always, great as one of three dysfunctional sisters, while Harry Potter fans may recognise something of the Moaning Myrtles in Shirley Henderson's performance. There were also a few surprise castings in the shape of Michael K Williams (The Wire's Omar) and Pee Wee Herman himself, Paul Reubens.


Lots of flapping of programmes as hundreds of journalists queue in the fierce heat for the screening of Life During Wartime.

Although it's a US film, it stars Scottish actress Shirley Henderson and Northern Ireland's Ciaran Hinds in starring roles, albeit both playing Americans.

As the orderly queue descended into chaos, I narrowly avoided being taken out by a giant winged golden lion, the mascot of the festival, being transported to some event or other.

I finally made it into in the vast, temporary cinema but things got off to a bad start when the lights dimmed, then came on again before the film had even started, prompting ironic claps.

Some 20 minutes later they are still having "technical problems"

Nicolas Cage
Hollywood's Nic Cage is in Venice to promote a remake of Bad Lieutenant

With the big opening out of the way, it's down to business for the rest of the festival. There is an endless round of press conferences throughout the afternoon, which will be held in a multitude of languages, no doubt making for an amusing, if not confusing, day.

One of the highlights is The Road, based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Cormac McCarthy. I say highlight: It looks thoroughly depressing.

Set in a post-apocalyptic America, it has Viggo Mortensen as a father desperately trying to defend his son against cannibal gangs as they attempt to reach safer ground. Charlize Theron also stars in the film, but so far it looks like she will not be gracing us with her presence.

There is also a press conference for the film Great Directors, which is showing out of competition. It focuses on 10 directors, including Bernardo Bertolucci, Catherine Breillat, Stephen Frears, Richard Linklater, Ken Loach and David Lynch, and what it means to be an artist behind the camera. It sounds a bit of a luvvie fest but could be insightful...


The Lido is one long strip of land, set apart from mainland Venice. The hotel is at one end and the screenings and events are at the other.

To save my poor feet, which took a pounding on day one, I've hired a bike - seemingly the only way to get around here.

I love it, but the only problem will be trying to find it again in among the thousands chained to every available static surface. If you stood still too long someone would try and lock their bike around your leg!


Eva Mendes at the Venice Film Festival
US actress Eva Mendes was among the stars to brave the media scrum on opening night

The flashbulbs have stopped popping as the stars of the opening film, its director and a host of invited dignitaries take their seats in the impressive Sala Grande cinema for the premiere of Baaria.

Ahead of the curtain going up on the film, the festival director Marco Muller welcomed everyone to the Lido for two weeks of non-stop film-watching.

Those who will have squarest eyes by the end of the event are the panellists who sit on the jury awarding the prestigious Golden Lion. Last year's winner was The Wrestler, starring Mickey Rourke, which went on to achieve mainstream success, and an Oscar nomination.

Director Ang Lee is heading this year's jury, having won the Golden Lion himself in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain.

Although he says he is excited to be part of the team tasked with picking a winner, he is also apprehensive, saying he considered it somewhat unfair to pit films against each other. "But it is the parodox that 'we have to go with the flow'," he told the assembled audience.

Maria Grazia Cucinotta
Actress Maria Grazia Cucinotta is the festival's official ambassador

Arriving on the opening day of the festival means hitting the ground running in terms of getting your bearings and registering with the many PR companies who set up here for the two weeks of the festival.

This isn't easy when you've never been to Italy before and, sad to say, speak hardly a word of the language. And it all got off to a bad start when I confidently got on a bus and went the wrong way - for miles. One bus journey back and a map in hand and it all got a little easier.

The festival opens tonight with Baaria, the epic autobiographical film from Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore.

A celebrated figure in Italy, his work has transcended his own country, with his 1988 film Cinema Paradiso a classic feel-good movie on many a movie buff's must-see recommendation list.

This year festival organisers have opted to go with an Italian film to open the festival. Last year Brad Pitt and George Clooney walked the red carpet on opening night to promote Burn After Reading.

While the premiere of Baaria may not garner as many headlines around the world, its exposure at the world's second biggest film festival has been welcomed in its home country.

And with the beautiful Monica Bellucci as one of its star names, it should still get some international attention.


I have arrived in a very hot and sunny Venice, having anticipated heavy rain thanks to a slightly off weather forecast. Boarded a water bus bound for the Lido, the strip of land where the festival opens today, and the site of many a glamorous tourist holiday.

The public water buses are the equivalent of the old London Routemasters, basic and slow, but they really do allow you to take in the breathtaking sights.

The private water taxis whizz by and will probably reach their destination in a quarter of the time. But as they are at least seven times the price, I'm happy to just sit back and take in the views.

Print Sponsor

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific