But Eastwood, Stone, others to hit the Lido

ROME — With new offerings from the majors all but absent and U.S. features in general receiving only sparse representation, the 57th Venice Intl. Film Festival has gone a similar route to Cannes this year, cold-shouldering Hollywood in favor of European and Asian cinema.

The event kicks off Aug. 30 under a studio banner, with Warners’ “Space Cowboys” unspooling to mark the Golden Lion career award being presented opening night to actor-director Clint Eastwood. But a meager two of the 20 titles in competition — Robert Altman’s “Dr. T and the Women” and Julian Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls” — will fly the stars and stripes, both of them from the indie sector.

Fest director Alberto Barbera attributes the dwindling availability of U.S. entries for the fest to radical changes in marketing strategy.

With the advent of DVD and shortening of the post-theatrical window, the majors more frequently are moving up their European release dates to coincide with or immediately follow domestic launch. While the U.S. summer crop in past years offered a number of key titles for Venice, the fest topper has found that most studios now are electing not to wait for a post-Venice fall release.

Barbera admits to being disappointed that new pics from directors such as Philip Kaufman, Robert Redford and Billy Bob Thornton reportedly will not be ready in time for Venice. Others, like Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Weight of Water,” have opted instead to bow in Toronto, which continues to have greater pull than Venice in attracting U.S. premieres.

“I believe this year’s festival will be authoritative, luminous and carefree,” said Barbera at a July 28 press conference in Rome announcing the lineup.

“Authoritative because of the number of important names and prestigious auteurs in the selection; luminous because of the presence of so many major stars, who have always played a significant role in the festival’s success; and carefree because of the number of parties throughout the festival, winding up on closing night with the premieres of two new musical films accompanied by live concerts.”

Those pics are Spanish director Fernando Trueba’s “Calle 54,” a series of 10 portraits of celebrated Latin-American musicians; and gypsy-chronicler Tony Gatlif’s latest, “Vengo,” a tale of love, jealousy, rivalry and passion told through the music of Andalucian gitanos. Protagonists from both films will perform Sept. 9 following the screenings.

A past winner of the Golden Lion for “Short Cuts” in 1993 and for career achievement in 1996, Robert Altman returns to the Lido with the ensemble comedy about a psychoanalyst and his female patients, “Dr. T and the Women,” which Artisan is releasing in the U.S. Richard Gere stars with Helen Hunt, Farrah Fawcett, Laura Dern and Liv Tyler.

Also returning to Venice is Julian Schnabel, whose debut feature, “Basquiat,” premiered in competition in 1996. The artist-turned-filmmaker will bring “Before Night Falls,” based on the acclaimed autobiography of late Cuban novelist Reinaldo Arenas and starring Javier Bardem, Olivier Martinez, Johnny Depp and Hector Babenco.

Out of competition, Venice stalwart Woody Allen is back with DreamWorks comedy “Small Time Crooks,” though the director himself usually never shows up, while Robert Zemeckis’ supernatural suspenser from Dreamworks/Fox, “What Lies Beneath,” and Universal’s Jonathan Mostow-helmed WWII submarine thriller, “U-571,” will have their European premieres in the latenight Dreams and Visions section.

Also bowing in a midnight slot is New Line’s “The Cell,” the first feature from ace commercials and musicvideo creator Tarsem, starring Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Stars expected to make the Venice trip include Sharon Stone, who will present the Golden Lion to Eastwood opening night; Gere and Depp, respectively supporting the Altman and Schnabel pics; and Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer for “What Lies Beneath.” Still to be confirmed are Hugh Grant for “Small Time Crooks” and Lopez for “The Cell.”

Barbera and his selection team waded through nearly 1,000 titles to distill the final selection of 91 features and 63 short and medium-length films unspooling in Venice.

Britain is represented in competition by Stephen Frears’ “Liam,” with Ian Hart, the story of a poverty-stricken Irish family in the Depression seen through the eyes of a 6-year-old boy; and by Sally Potter’s 1930s-set melodrama “The Man Who Cried,” about a Jewish girl who dreams of leaving Europe to find her father in the U.S. The film stars Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchett, John Turturro and Johnny Depp, all of whom are expected to attend.

Other Euro entries include French helmer Xavier Beauvois’ “Selon Matthieu,” starring Nathalie Baye, who won last year’s best actress nod in Venice for “Une Liaison Pornographique”; Lithuanian fest favorite Sharunas Bartas’ latest, “Freedom”; Portuguese veteran Manoel de Oliveira’s “Palavra e Utopia”; and Chilean maverick Raoul Ruiz’s “Fils de deux meres, ou comedie de l’innocence,” starring Isabelle Huppert.

First-time Portuguese helmer Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ sexually explicit “O Fantasma” and Barbet Schroeder’s drama about an intellectual looking for love among Colombia’s adolescent street kids, “Our Lady of the Assassins,” are among several gay-themed titles.

Others include Schnabel’s “Before Night Falls”; Argentine Marcelo Pineyro’s “Plata Quemada,” set in 1960s Buenos Aires; and Gus Van Sant’s “Jokes: Chapter 1 — Easter,” about the coming out of a 70-year-old man. Latter is the first half-hour section of a three-part project written by Harmony Korine, with others segs to be directed by Korine and Chloe Sevigny.

After maintaining a low profile last year due to the country’s ongoing production slump and paucity of strong product, Italian films are back in force this edition, with four homegrown features selected for competition and six more bowing in sidebars.

“This is not a nationalistic choice but one linked purely to quality,” says Barbera. “It appears that after going through a very difficult period, the Italian film industry is starting to produce interesting works again, reappropriating some of the genres that made Italian cinema great in the past like the historical-political drama and the commedia italiana and giving an extremely encouraging picture of the national production sector’s health.”

Competition titles are Marco Tullio Giordana’s Sicilian Mafia drama “The Hundred Steps”; Guido Chiesa’s “Johnny the Partisan,” about the final years of the WWII Resistance struggle; Carlo Mazzacurati’s “The Tongue of the Saint,” a buddy comedy pairing popular thesps Antonio Albanese and Fabrizio Bentivoglio; and Gabriele Salvatores’ “Teeth,” a surreal black comedy that represents a marked change of pace for the director of “Mediterraneo” and “Nirvana.”

Barbera confirmed that several eagerly anticipated new Italian features from directors including Nanni Moretti, Ermanno Olmi, Ettore Scola, Francesca Archibugi and Giuseppe Tornatore will not be completed in time for Venice berths.

Asian competition titles include fast-emerging Hong Kong director Fruit Chan’s melancholy tale of a Chinese prostitute, “Durian Durian”; from India, Buddhadep Dasgupta’s “The Wrestlers,” a visionary work about two fighters in a remote village; and Ki-duk Kim’s “The Isle,” a love story about a girl who rents houseboats on a lagoon, from South Korea.

“Once again in Venice this year, Asia will reaffirm itself as one of the world’s richest, most fertile territories for new creative developments and new discoveries, a trend that has been ongoing now for years,” says Barbera.

Rounding out the competition are Jafar Panahi’s tough drama about the condition of women and children in Iran, “The Circle,” and from Australia, Hong Kong helmer Clara Law’s road movie, “The Goddess of 1967,” about a car enthusiast, a Chinese woman and the fabled Citroen of the title. A final competition title is still to be announced.

Key titles screening in the midnight Dreams and Visions lineup include hot German director Tom Tykwer’s “The Princess and the Warrior,” again headlining “Run Lola Run” star Franka Potente; Hong Kong veteran Tsui Hark’s “Time and Tide”; Benoit Jacquot’s French costumer “Sade,” with Daniel Auteuil; and Italian Roberta Torre’s Sicilian immigration musical, “Sud Side Story,” a modern-day twist on “Romeo and Juliet.”

Out of competition pics include official jury member Claude Chabrol’s latest, “Merci pour la chocolat,” with Isabelle Huppert; and Japanese cult favorite Takeshi Kitano’s “Brother,” about a yakuza thug sent to Los Angeles to assemble a gang on U.S. turf. Kitano won Venice’s Golden Lion in 1997 for “Hana-bi.”

Martin Scorsese will take a break from preparations for the September shoot of “Gangs of New York” at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios to present the complete four-hour version of his tribute to the golden age of Italian film, “Il Dolce Cinema,” part of which was previewed at Venice last year.

Highlights of this year’s Cinema of the Present section include “Pollock,” an account of the life of controversial artist Jackson Pollock, marking the directing debut of actor Ed Harris, who also plays the title role; Barbara Kopple’s Woodstock documentary, “My Generation”; Brit director Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” starring Guy Pearce and Carrie-Ann Moss; and “Together” from Swedish director Lukas Mooodysson (“Show Me Love”).

Included in the New Territories section designed to showcase cutting-edge and experimental work are several titles from Channel Four’s Beckett on Film series, with contributions by directors Atom Egoyan, David Mamet, Patricia Rozema, Anthony Minghella, Damien O’Donnell and Karel Reisz.

The complete list of films screening at the Venice Intl. Film Festival:

OFFICIAL SELECTION

Opening night

Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood, U.S.

Closing night

Vengo, Tony Gatlif, France/Spain

COMPETITION

Dr. T and the Women, Robert Altman, U.S.

Freedom, Sharunas Bartas, France/Portugal/Lithuania

Selon Matthieu, Xavier Beauvois, France

Durian Durian, Fruit Chan, Hong Kong/China/France

Johnny the Partisan, Guido Chiesa, Italy

The Wrestlers, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India

Liam, Stephen Frears, U.K.

The Hundred Steps, Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy

The Isle, Ki-duk Kim, South Korea

The Goddess of 1967, Clara Law, Australia

The Tongue of the Saint, Carlo Mazzacurati, Italy

Palavra e utopia, Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/France/Brazil/Spain

The Circle, Jafar Panahi, Iran

The Man Who Cried, Sally Potter, Britain/France

O Fantasma, Joao Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal

Fils de deux meres ou comedie de l’innocence, Raoul Ruiz, France

Teeth, Gabriele Salvatores, Italy

Before Night Falls, Julian Schnabel, U.S.

Our Lady of the Assassins, Barbet Schroeder, France/Colombia

OUT OF COMPETITION

Small Time Crooks, Woody Allen, U.S.

Merci pour le chocolat, Claude Chabrol, France

Brother, Takeshi Kitano, Japan/U.S./Britain

Il Dolce Cinema, Martin Scorsese, Italy/U.S.

Calle 54, Fernando Trueba, France/Spain

Jokes: Chapter 1 — Easter (work in progress), Gus Van Sant, U.S.

DREAMS AND VISIONS

Time and Tide, Tsui Hark, Hong Kong/China

Sade, Benoit Jacquot, France

U-571, Jonathan Mostow, U.S.

Plata Quemada, Marcelo Pineyro, Argentina/Spain/Uruguay/France

The Cell, Tarsem, U.S.

Sud Side Story, Roberta Torre, Italy

The Princess and the Warrior, Tom Tykwer, Germany

What Lies Beneath, Robert Zemeckis, U.S.

CINEMA OF THE PRESENT

Esperando al Mesias, Daniel Burman, Argentina

Everybody Famous!, Dominique Deruddere, Belgium

Samia, Philippe Faucon, France

Roman Summer, Matteo Garrone, Italy

La ville est tranquille, Robert Guediguian, France

Pollock, Ed Harris, U.S.

My Generation, Barbara Kopple, U.S.

Possible Worlds, Robert Lepage, Canada

Adanggaman, Roger Gnoan M’Bala, Ivory Coast

Series 7 — The Contenders, Dan Minahan, U.S.

Together, Lukas Moodysson, Sweden/Denmark/Italy

Prime Gig, Gregory Mosher, U.S.

Memento, Christopher Nolan, Britain/U.S.

The Last Resort, Paul Pawlikowski, Russia/Britain

Die innere Sicherheit, Christian Petzold, Germany

Thomas est amoreux, Pierre Paul Renders, Belgium/France

Animals That Cross the Street, Isabella Sandri, Italy

Placido Rizzotto, Pasquale Scimeca, Italy

Suspicious River, Lynne Stopkewich, Canada

Otesanek, Jan Svankmajer, Czech Republic/Britain/Japan

Moskva, Alexander Zeldovich, Russia

NEW TERRITORIES

Features only

O rap do pequeno principe contr as almas sebosas, Paulo Caldas/Marcelo Luna, Brazil

Invocation, Hector Faver/Patricio Guzman/Fred Kelemen, Spain/Argentina

Pie in the Sky: The Brigid Berlin Story, Vincent Fremont/Shelly Dunn Fremont, U.S.

nos como Becky, Joaquin Jorda, Spain

Tales of an Island, Mohsen Makhmalbaf/Shahabodin Farokh-Yar/Dariush Merhjui, Iran

Branca de neve, Joao Cesar Monteiro, Portugal

The Young Cemeterians, Shari Springer Bergman/Robert Pulcini, U.S.

Happy Days, Patricia Rozema, U.K.

SPECIAL PROGRAMS

Fellini Recounts: A Rediscovered Self-Portrait, Paquito Del Bosco, Italy

Jung (Giang) — In the Land of the Mujaheddin, Alberto Vendemmiati/Fabrizio Lazzaretti, Italy

The State of the Dead, Zivojin Pavlovic, Yugoslavia

CRITICS WEEK

Felicidades, Lucho Bender, Argentina

Scout Man, Masato Ishioka, Japan

La Faute a Voltaire, Abdel Kechiche, France

You Can Count on Me, Kenneth Lonergan, U.S.

The Day I Became a Woman, Marzieh Meshkini, Iran

Far Away in the Depths of the Eyes, Giuseppe Rocca, Italy

Noites, Claudia Tomaz, Portugal

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