Teeing off in Venice

Altman preems pic, bows plans for next at fest

VENICE — Returning to the Venice Intl. Film Festival’s official competition for the first time since “Short Cuts” took home the Golden Lion in 1993, Robert Altman will present the world premiere tonight of his new comedy, “Dr. T and the Women,” and has revealed plans for his next project.

An ensemble piece set in London between the two world wars, “Gosford Park” was scripted by British writer Julian Fellows based on an original idea by Altman. While casting of the mainly British principals is reportedly well advanced, the veteran director is reluctant to announce names at this point and gave only cryptic hints about the plot.

“Take ‘Rules of the Game’ and ‘Ten Little Indians’ and shuffle them together,” Altman told Daily Variety. “That’s not to say I probably won’t do something completely different with it, but the atmosphere will be the same.”

Altman says he cooked up and developed the notion for this latest multicharacter story with Bob Balaban, with whom he will produce the pic. James McLindon, who teamed with Altman to produce “Dr. T and the Women,” will likely serve as executive producer.

Pic will be Altman’s first feature set and shot outside the U.S. since “Pret-a-Porter” in 1994. While financing is not yet in place, the director plans to transfer to London in early November, immediately following Artisan’s October release of “Dr. T,” and begin preparations for a March shoot.

“Right now, we’re in a wait-and-see mode,” said McLindon. “We’re putting it together, and let’s just say that when you’ve got a great script and a great cast and you’ve got Altman, financing won’t be a problem.”

Gere’d up

In Venice with Altman to present the new film is Richard Gere, who stars as a successful Dallas gynecologist juggling complicated relationships with the women in his private and professional life. The comedy also stars Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern, Shelley Long, Tara Reid, Kate Hudson and Liv Tyler.

Perhaps fearful of being passed over at awards time and having already earned their share of accolades, many seasoned filmmakers tend to shy away from festival competitions. But Altman remains a firm advocate of fests as a useful launchpad.

“Directors who say they don’t enjoy festivals are lying,” he said. “I always want to be in competition with a new film because it’s a great way to get people talking about it. It’s all part of the game, and it gives me the chance to keep up contacts. Otherwise, people might think I’m just an old guy with a long gray beard living up on a mountaintop.”

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