Conventional wisdom has it that of the three major European film festivals, Venice can be the most filmmaker-friendly. Directors with American films unspooling there this year agree: It fits comfortably between the hype and commerciality of Cannes and the occasionally unforgiving academic atmosphere of Britain.

In a year in which U.S. films dominate entries both in and out of competition , there are a host of big names and newcomers attracted to Venice’s emphasis on the aesthetic, the gentleness of the critics and the opportunity to open a commercially viable film in an artistically driven setting.

Puttin’ on the hits

For Ivan Reitman, director of the Yank political comedy “Dave,””It’s good to have ‘Dave’ at the festival. … Comedy doesn’t usually get respect, but it’s getting a different kind of exposure and appreciation.”

Stan Friedman, communications and marketing consultant for Andrew Davis, director of “The Fugitive,” believes the number of high-profile Hollywood films at this year’s Venice festival is reflective of the higher quality of Hollywood product in general in 1993.

“The Fugitive’s” reception in Venice, Friedman says, could be crucial to Davis’ international reputation. Noting that Davis’ “Under Siege” was the first Steven Seagal film to be an overseas hit, he says, “The Fugitive””is in along with some very intelligent filmmaking. People who might thumb their nose at mainstream American films … will pay attention to this. It’ll not just position it as a big American action movie, but as a sophisticated film as well.”

Robert Altman has won big at all three festivals — at Cannes, “MASH” won the Palme d’Or in 1970 and “The Player” earned him the director prize last year; “Buffalo Bill and the Indians” took the top award in Berlin in 1976, and the Venice Film Festival created a special citation for ensemble acting for the whole cast of “Streamers” in 1983 –”the best prize one of my films ever won,” Altman says. “It was the first time these (festivals) ever made sense to me.”

Altman didn’t differentiate between festivals. “I don’t know what these things are,” he says. “They basically get people all lathered up, and call attention to your work without your having to spend money on advertising.”

He adds, “The main value is it gives lesser known films and filmmakers a shot that they otherwise wouldn’t have — they can’t stand up against the bigger names.”

But most of the American films at Venice this year are high-profile productions. Wolgang Petersen, whose “In the Line of Fire” is in the Venetian Nights sidebar, concedes, “There’s some criticism that the American mainstream is taking over the festival,” noting, however, that Venice’s pedigree remains impeccable.

Auteur, auteur

After noting fellow German directors Edgar Reitz and Werner Herzog were discovered there, Petersen says, “They’re into the film auteur vein — they appreciate the artistic, the less commercial.

“Cannes is much bigger, it’s much more commercial. And everyone’s afraid of Berlin because the critics are so tough there. Studios are careful about sending their films there.”

Petersen recalled that as a film school graduate in 1970, he submitted his hourlong senior project to the Venice festival and “got pretty mixed reviews. I got some beatings and never went back.”

Though Reitman’s “Dave” marks the first time one of his films has been taken seriously on the festival circuit, he’s a Cannes veteran.

“For a long time, I was a small independent producer,” he recalls. “I’d make a film for $ 300,000-$ 500,000, take it to Cannes and sell it territorially, and get enough money so I could make a movie the following year.

“Venice, like Berlin, focuses on the aesthetic much more,” Reitman says. “It’s a festival for film lovers and film critics, who appreciate what’s going on worldwide. There’s a stronger intellectual bias.”

All agree with Altman that the free publicity of a festival is a bonus, but Petersen acknowledged that when it comes to creating a European marketing plan goes, Venice’s influence goes much further.

Major presence

“You see most of the major local and international critics there, and within a couple of days, you can see how they reacted (to your film),” Petersen says.

“Then you can match your marketing ideas to what you’ve learned about their response.”

Helmer Reitman concurs, adding that Venice is crucial to Italian, Spanish and Portuguese markets. On the other hand, he cautions, “Every festival is a double-edged sword. If your film doesn’t work, everyone knows about it that much faster.”

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