Positive response surrounds Cinema of the Present competish

CANNES — As Cannes winds down for another year, the lineup for the 58th Venice Intl. Film Festival is slowly coming together, with new films from Woody Allen, David Mamet, Istvan Szabo and Eric Rohmer among those strongly tipped for Lido slots.

A perennial favorite at Venice, Allen is expected to return with the comedy “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion,” in which he stars alongside Dan Ackroyd, Elizabeth Berkley, Helen Hunt and Charlize Theron.

Mamet, who screened “State and Main” at Venice last year, is likely to return with the crime drama “Heist,” starring Gene Hackman, Rebecca Pidgeon, Delroy Lindo, Ricky Jay, Danny De Vito and Sam Rockwell.

Fest chief Alberto Barbera reports an overwhelmingly positive response from producers and sales agents in Cannes to the recently announced decision to make the Cinema of the Present section competitive. The new lineup, focusing on emerging talent and genre fare, will flank the fest’s traditional competition for established auteurs.

“There’s been a lot of curiosity, interest and appreciation here following Venice’s announcement of the establishment of a second competition,” Barbera told Daily Variety.

Previously reported titles heading for Venice include Steven Spielberg’s “A.I. Artificial Intelligence” and Milcho Manchevski’s Balkan Western “Dust,” which is strongly mooted to be opening the fest. Both pics will screen out of competition.

Also in line for a Lido bow is veteran French auteur Eric Rohmer’s “The Lady and the Duke,” which was picked up for the U.S. in Cannes by Sony Pictures Classics.

Other strong contenders include Istvan Szabo’s English-language drama “Taking Sides,” with Harvey Keitel and Stellan Skarsgard; Jez Butterworth’s “Birthday Girl” from Miramax, starring Nicole Kidman and Ben Chaplin; and French helmer Andre Techine’s “Terminus des anges.”

Also likely to return to Venice is Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic, with his first English-language feature, “How Harry Became a Tree.” The Irish period drama stars Adrian Dunbar, Colm Meaney and Cilian Murphy. Paskaljevic’s “The Powder Keg” was one of the major discoveries of the 1998 Venice fest.

Following this year’s return in significant numbers of Italian films to Cannes, home-grown productions are expected to be out in force at Venice. Top contenders include Marco Bellocchio’s “The Religion Hour,” Silvio Soldini’s “Yesterday,” Giuseppe Piccione’s “The Light of My Eyes” and Marco Risi’s “Three Wives.”

Also in the running are new features from Italian directors Giuseppe Bertolucci, Marco Bechis and Alberto Rondalli.

While the Asian contingent has yet to take shape, titles being tracked for Venice include mainland Chinese helmer Zhang Yang’s “Quitting,” which follows his breakthrough “Shower,” and Thai period drama “Jan Dara,” directed by Nonzee Nimbutr, whose previous film, “Nang Nak,” smashed box office records at home.

The full Venice lineup will be announced July 27 at a press conference in Rome. The 58th Venice fest runs Aug. 29-Sept. 8.

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