Fest Gambles On New Image

Compared with last year’s event, which surfaced in the bow waves of the fall ’93 GATT spat, the 35th edition of the Monte Carlo Television Festival looks on paper like a lower-key, more Euro-skewed event.

Active U.S. participation, in terms of celebs and programs in competition, is down, and fest topper Wilfred Groote admits the event has started to take steps to freshen its international image.

‘We’ve launched the newsletter, Monte Carlo Tele-Visions, to establish more of a link with participants. We’ve also given an expanded role to (New York-based) William and Liliane Vitale, who rep the event in North America and handle press relations with the English-speaking world.”

Adds Groote, “We wanted to get the festival and market better known. In the past, we’ve perhaps not paid that much attention to the trade press, and we may have been under-represented in the U.S.”

As with “Charlemagne” last year, a historical costumer opens proceedings – Marvin J. Chomsky’s miniseries “Catherine the Great.” The fest expects several members of the cast – which includes title-roler Catherine Zeta Jones, Jeanne Moreau, Omar Sharif and Mel Ferrer – to be in town to support the world preem.

“Catherine” continues Chomsky’s love affair with Russian history, following in the footsteps of his Emmy Award-winning “Peter the Great” and Emmy-nommed “Anastasia.” International sales for the series are being handled by Michael J. Solomon.

The fest’s two main competition categories, TV Films and Miniseries, are again dominated by European fare. With four hopefuls, France has the most runners in the 19-entry telefilm section. Respected helmers Philippe de Broca (“Le jardin des plantes”) and Edouard Molinaro (“Ce que savait Maisie”) head the Gallic challenge. Groote admits to the imbalance of competing fare. “We’re a little short of entries from Asia and Central Europe,” he says. “But we preferred to maintain quality than accept entries for geographical reasons.”

Czech helmer Jaroslav Hykl provides one of the few Central Euro film competitors with “Rosa, the Guardian Angel.” U.S. entries in the film section have dropped from four to two, including Tom McLoughlin’s “The Lies Boys Tell.”

Presiding over the TV film jury this year is U.S. director Sidney Lumet, who started on tube before turning most of his attention to bigscreen fare. Lumet’s counterpart as head of the miniseries jury is thesp Tatum O’Neal.

In the miniseries section, French producer Anabase Prods, is hoping to get lucky with the premiere of “L’affaire Dreyfus,” a retelling of the Capt. Alfred Dreyfus scandal, which remains a subject of embarrassment to the French establishment to this day. So far, only members of the French National Assembly have had a chance to view the series.

Monte Carlo’s competitive lineup also includes the Golden and Silver Nymph awards for Best News Feature and Best News Report. With a jury of veteran news journalists and news execs, these awards have become highly coveted in the industry.

Away from the competition, Bell Atlantic Corp. topper Raymond W. Smith is set to make a keynote speech about the information superhighway at the festival’s first World Forum.

First-time opportunity

“This is the first time we’ve had the World Forum,” says Groote. “We wanted to take the opportunity of Monte Carlo (to address) one of the key questions facing the industry.”

Though Groote insists the Forum is something new, Monte Carlo regulars point out the fest has traditionally had at least one heavyweight powwow – last year, it was MPAA president Jack Valenti going public for the first time since the GATT brouhaha.

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