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Venetians blinded

Spielberg leads Hollywood contingent

VENICE — Like the D-Day landing of troops on Omaha Beach in the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan,” a platoon of top brass from DreamWorks and Paramount descended Wednesday on Venice, setting the tone for a fest in which impoverished arthouse auteurs will be outnumbered by studio suits and major Hollywood directors.

The 55th Venice Intl. Film Festival gets under way tonight with the European premiere, out of competition, of Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed World War II drama.

Accompanied by stars Tom Hanks, Edward Burns and Tom Sizemore, the director will attend the gala screening, entering the Palazzo del Cinema via a red-carpeted runway with specially designed lighting by Oscar-winning cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.

Conspicuous among the hefty delegation in town with the pic are DreamWorks studio chief Jeffrey Katzenberg; Viacom chairman and CEO Jonathan Dolgen; Paramount chairwoman Sherry Lansing; vice chairman Rob Friedman; president, worldwide marketing Arthur Cohen; and executive VP of motion pictures international, Joanna Johnson, among many others.

Spielberg under wraps

Representatives of UIP, which will release the pic throughout Europe, were tight-lipped about the Spielberg entourage’s address in town. But rumor has them holed up, away from the paparazzi, in swanky digs on the relatively secluded island of Torcella, where an exclusive post-preem dinner is believed to be scheduled.

The view on the eve of the fest has been that the boost in big-name pics, all with worldwide distribution in place, has left acquisitions execs skeptical about their chances of unearthing discoveries here.

But early arrival Ruth Vitale of Paramount’s still untitled specialty division, unofficially known as Paramount Classics, remains optimistic.

“Like any festival, you hope you’ll find a gem,” Vitale told Daily Variety. “If not, you might lay the groundwork for finding one in the future through meetings you have here. Remember that a film like ‘Shine’ came out of nowhere at Sundance, so you never know when that big title will come along.

“We’ve highlighted about 10 to 12 films here that we’re very interested in seeing because we’re looking at foreign-language films as well, which is different from some of our competitors,” she added.

‘Passion’ will shoot

Vitale also confirmed that Paramount Classics’ first production, the Ron Bass-scripted “Passion of Mind,” directed by Alain Berliner and starring Demi Moore, will begin shooting Sept. 28 in New York City and France.

While English-language pics premiering in Venice without prior distribution deals in place are relatively few, U.S. rights remain available to a handful of key titles such as Abel Ferrara’s “New Rose Hotel,” produced by Edward Pressman and screening in the official competition.

Also being unveiled here is Canadian Francois Girard’s multilingual epic “The Red Violin.” The film kicks off the midnight section, Nights and Stars, this evening with the director, producer Niv Fichman, co-writer and star Don McKellar and other cast members here for the launch, prior to opening the Toronto Intl. Film Festival. New Line has international rights to the pic, with domestic still available through the producer.

Other foreign-language titles that figure high on buyers’ viewing lists here include “Run Lola Run,” by up and coming German director Tom Tykwer; “The Way We Laughed,” the first feature from Italian Gianni Amelio since 1994’s critically acclaimed “Lamerica”; and two-time Palme d’Or winner Emir Kusturica’s gypsy tale, “Black Cat White Cat,” from Yugoslavia.

Golden Lions to roar

This year’s Golden Lions for career achievement will be presented during tonight’s opening ceremony to ever-popular Italian star Sophia Loren and veteran Polish director Andrzej Wajda.

Due to her recent illness, Loren was forced to cancel her Lido trip, but the award — presented by Michelangelo Antonioni — will be accepted on behalf of the actress by her husband, producer Carlo Ponti, and their sons, Edoardo and Carlo Jr. Edoardo Ponti’s short feature “Liv” premieres Friday in the Perspectives lineup.

While Italian journalists clearly are disappointed by the absence of the country’s best-loved star, local and foreign reporters flooding into Venice say their interview schedules this year are bulging.

But if the stellar roster of talent expected has led to a favorable verdict at the outset of this year’s fest, the ongoing hotel-shortage saga remains a sore point because many industryites and press are still scrambling for lodgings.

An interesting solution was found by two reporters accredited for the poetically named prison journal Restricted Horizons. Unable to find low-cost accommodation on the Lido for themselves and their official escorts, the two correspondents will follow the Venice program by day and then travel back each night to Padua prison to churn out their coverage behind bars.

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