Sidebars reflect tightly edited program

Television, video selections pruned from fest

ROME — While the Venice fest in recent years has become an increasingly out-of-control maze of proliferating sidebars and ponderously titled sub-sections housing everything from U.S. blockbusters to experimentalism to esoteric video fare, this edition promises to be different, with streamlining now the order of the day.

This year, Venice has been stripped down, pruning not only the number of features to screen, but also the fest’s principal sections outside the feature and short film competitions to just three.

Also gone are the majority of documentaries, television productions and videos, which most recently found their home in the now defunct Venetian Workshop lineup. While this section and its predecessors frequently yielded interesting discoveries, they too often were overlooked in an A-list context like Venice where most festgoers have higher-profile fish to fry.

Venice’s glitzy midnight section — now renamed Nights and Stars — reverts after last fall’s low-key selection to its traditional role as a showcase for high-octane entertainment, spectacle and star wattage. But while U.S. studio fare dominates the lineup, fest chief Felice Laudadio has maintained his aversion to popcorn movies, dipping instead into the decidedly upscale, offbeat end of the spectrum.

EAGERLY AWAITED

Among the section’s handful of eagerly awaited world premieres is Bryan Singer’s controversial adaptation of the Stephen King novella “Apt Pupil.” The Phoenix Pictures production stars Ian McKellen as a Nazi war criminal hiding out in California and Brad Renfro as the high schooler who becomes obsessed with him. McKellen, Renfro and Singer all will be in Venice.

Also being unveiled is “Another Day in Paradise,” director Larry Clark’s follow-up to “Kids.” Set in Oklahoma in the 1970s, the film centers on a surrogate family of heroin addicts and stars James Woods, Melanie Griffith and newcomer Vincent Kartheiser. Clark, Griffith and Woods are expected on the Lido for the premiere.

John Frankenheimer will bring his action-adventure thriller, “Ronin,” about an international group of secret agents undertaking a high-risk theft. Stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Natasha McElhone and Sean Bean also will be in Venice for the MGM feature’s world preem.

Titles making their European bows include Peter Weir’s comedy-drama about media control, “The Truman Show,” with the director and stars Jim Carrey, Laura Linney and Ed Harris all due in to promote the Paramount hit; Buena Vista’s basketball drama, “He Got Game,” with director Spike Lee and leads Denzel Washington and Milla Jovovich expected to attend; and Steven Soderbergh’s Elmore Leonard adaptation, “Out of Sight,” from Universal, with the director to be accompanied by the thriller’s romantic duo George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez.

Also unspooling are Warner’s Hitchcock update, “A Perfect Murder,” with director Andrew Davis and star Michael Douglas in tow; and Bob Rafelson’s HBO feature “Poodle Springs,” in which James Caan, who will be on the Lido, steps into legendary detective Philip Marlowe’s shoes.

Midnight screeners from outside the U.S. include Canadian Francois Girard’s epic about a magical instrument, “The Red Violin,” with stars Samuel L. Jackson and Greta Scacchi both due on the Lido; French helmer Roger Planchon’s costumer “Lautrec,” about the life of Bohemian artist Toulouse Lautrec; and Italian rocker Luciano Ligabue’s directing debut, “Radio Freccia,” based on his short stories about an indie radio station in the 1970s.

Padding out the non-American contingent, the section was to have included frightmeister Dario Argento’s blood-drenched retelling of “The Phantom of the Opera,” but special effects delays prevented its inclusion.

The Out-of-Competition lineup features key premieres that either don’t quite fit into the competition mold or whose directors have chosen to shy away from competition fanfare.

Venice regular Woody Allen returns with his new comedy “Celebrity.” While Allen invariably avoids personal fest appearances, his onscreen alter ego Kenneth Branagh will be on hand. The Jean Doumanian-produced Miramax release also stars Judy Davis, Leonardo DiCaprio, Melanie Griffith, Joe Mantegna and Winona Ryder.

MAIDEN RELEASE

Also screening out of competition is Polygram’s historical biopic, “Elizabeth,” which goes out in September as the maiden release of the company’s new Italian distribution arm. Stars Cate Blanchette and Geoffrey Rush will be in town with director Shekhar Kapur.

James Ivory unveils “A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries,” a drama about an American family in Paris in the 1960s and ’70s. The October Films pickup stars Barbara Hershey and Kris Kristofferson, both of whom are expected on the Lido.

Italy figures with four titles in the section: “You’re Laughing,” Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Pirandello adaptation; actor-turned director Michele Placido’s 1950s-set drama, “Of Lost Love”; Peter Del Monte’s story of Polish immigrants in Rome, “The Ballad of the Windscreen Washers”; and Alberto Sordi’s “Forbidden Encounters,” screening as a special tribute to the enduringly popular comic.

Veteran Gallic helmer Claude Lelouch is back with his fairy tale about a ballerina looking for love, “Hasards ou coincidences,” and German director Doris Dorrie rounds out the lineup with closing-night comedy, “Am I Beautiful?” about four couples and their quest for happiness.

The new Perspectives section is designed as a forum for directors moving into new areas, developing new film language and new sensibilities.

Among the highlights is Mike Figgis’ semi-autobiographical drama, “The Loss of Sexual Innocence,” which stars Julian Sands and recently was taken on by Sony Pictures Classics. Also bowing is Susanne Styron’s debut, “Shadrach.” Based on the director’s father William Styron’s story about a family of bootleggers in 1930s North Carolina, the drama stars Harvey Keitel and Andie MacDowell, both of whom are due to attend.

After serving on Venice’s competition jury in 1997, Japanese cult director Shinya Tsukamoto returns with his latest, “Bullet Ballet”; French director Cedric Kahn (“Trop de bonheur”) weighs in with “L’Ennui,” from the Alberto Moravia novel; producer Ed Pressman brings “Endurance,” a docudrama about an Ethiopian athlete directed by Leslie Woodhead; and first-time helmer Tony Gerber comes with the New York indie “Side Street.”

Capping off the event, the fest’s independently programmed Intl. Critics Week, which was reinstated last year, returns with a lineup of seven debut features.

These include Don Roos’ hit indie comedy, “The Opposite of Sex”; the black comedy-drama “Orphans,” which marks the feature directing bow of Glaswegian thesp Peter Mullan, who won the best actor award in Cannes this year in Ken Loach’s “My Name Is Joe”; and Italian newcomer Claudio Caligari’s “The Smell of the Night,” which stars upcoming thesp Valerio Mastandrea and was produced by director Marco Risi.

As in the 1997 edition, when Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” screened as a foretaste of the traveling retrospective that went out later in the fall, Venice’s retro this year will take place outside the festival frame.

Titled “Sessantotto e dintorno,” it is dedicated to films originally premiered amid the political upheaval of 1968. Screening during the fest in anticipation of the retro will be German director Alexander Kluge’s “Artists at the Top of the Big Top: Disoriented.”

Other unrelated tribute screenings include restored prints of Antonio Pietrangeli’s “Adua and Her Friends,” Luciano Tovoli’s “L’Armata ritorna,” Joseph Losey and Andrea Forzano’s “Stranger on the Prowl,” Roberto Rossellini’s “Paisa” and Anton Gino Domeneghini’s “The Rose of Baghdad.”

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