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Venice welcomes with open arms

Screening a film at the Venice Film Festival is something like visiting long-lost Italian relatives. You can count on plenty of enthusiasm and, if all goes well, an embrace con gusto. It’s a reception that’s not as typical of Cannes or Berlin, the other major European fests, and it makes Venice dear to the hearts of U.S. film execs.

“Venice feels safer than any other festival,” says Nadia Bronson, president of international marketing at Universal, which will have “October Sky” at the festival. “It has the more welcoming press. It’s the Italian element. Whoever goes becomes Italian instantly. It’s not the same kind of competitive pressure you feel elsewhere.”

But in today’s more crowded film market, companies with the good fortune to get into Venice may choose to resist its open arms. If the release date in Italy is more than two months away, execs say, the publicity boost from the festival will wane to the point where it no longer serves a purpose.

Such was the case with a number of films, including “The Muse.” When the film’s Italian distrib decided not to release the picture until the new year, Good Machine Intl. withdrew it from the festival.

“I’m a huge believer in Venice, but the marketplace is changing,” says David Linde, GMI’s president. “When you’re talking about movies that cost $25 (million) to $30 million you have to analyze the best way of bringing them to theatrical market.”

Venice also wanted to premiere Roman Polanski’s “The Ninth Gate,” but it was stymied for the same reason.

“We have to work with the Italian distributor,” says Christina Petropoulos, vice president of marketing for Summit Entertainment, which is handling “Ninth Gate.” “The film won’t be released until Christmas (in Italy) so it didn’t make sense to premiere it at Venice. You have to release within two months or the awareness and excitement die off.”

However, this two-month rule is not set in stone. Last year, MGM/UA released “Ronin” in Italy four months after premiering it at the festival, but the picture performed well because of its built-in European appeal.

“Some say open closer to the festival and some say use it as a base to build — it depends on the film,” says Larry Gleason, the company’s president of worldwide distribution.

But for every missed rendezvous at Venice there seems to be a happy marriage of film and event.

“Venice is an ideal opportunity for profiling certain products in Europe,” says Duncan Clark, president, Columbia/TriStar Distributors Intl.

One such product is “Crazy in Alabama,” the directing debut of Antonio Banderas that will be in official competition.

“Given that this is Antonio’s first movie, we couldn’t be more delighted with this positioning,” Clark says. “There’s no better way to launch this film.”

This year’s festival, presided over by a new director (Alberto Barbera), will bring a swift end to last year’s debut of an official market. Instead, it will set up an industry office to facilitate contacts.

“It was the right decision to go back to the way it was,” says Julian Senior, senior VP of European marketing for Warner Bros. “Venice isn’t a market where people look for sales. It’s wholly an arts festival. That’s what it’s always been and that’s what it should be.”

Be that as it may, business does get done, and in some ways, Venice is very efficient.

“Market or no market, Venice will continue to be really important,” Good Machine’s Linde says. “The pacing is more relaxed. You can have thoughtful, serious meetings with distributors. You go for five, six days and you get an incredible amount of work done.”

After not attending last year, Monica Chuo, head of acquisitions at Samuel Goldwyn, has determined that it’s not to be missed this year.

“There were films like ‘Run Lola Run’ that premiered last year, so it’s something that made us believe we should be there to get a jumpstart.”

For Miramax, which is releasing six films in Europe this fall, the opportunity to debut three of them at Venice is invaluable.

“Venice this year is among the most important we’ve had there,” says Rick Sands, Miramax chairman of worldwide distribution. “For Academy films we go to Berlin, but Venice is great because we get to set up our fall there.”

Xavier Marchant, president of Universal Pictures Intl., agrees with the seasonal forecast.

“Venice is the starting point for the fall, and you complement that with local festivals — Deauville, San Sebastian and Hamburg — to give the film a local push.”

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