Italian producers issue Venice ultimatum

Org frustrated by delays in naming fest topper

ROME — Italy’s national film producers union has threatened to withhold all Italian productions from participation in the Venice Intl. Film Festival if a fest topper is not named before the end of this week.

The ultimatum underlines the extreme tardiness in the appointment of a new artistic director to head the 59th annual event, which will take place Aug. 29-Sept. 8.

The delay stems largely from the fact that the province of Venice and the surrounding Veneto region have not yet appointed their representative board members to the Biennale, the arts institution that controls the fest and is headed by recently appointed president Franco Bernabe.

Despite the deadline, a decision regarding the new fest chief appears likely to be on hold until after the weekend, given that the remaining board members will not be appointed until the end of this week. Bernabe said recently that he will name the new director no later than March 18.

The Venice changeover is one of several management reshuffles at Italy’s key cultural institutions engineered by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing government to weed out the previous leftist government’s appointees and replace them with more ideologically sympathetic figureheads.

The producers org led by Aurelio De Laurentiis, acting in agreement with umbrella production group ANICA, has appealed to Bernabe and the relevant authorities to move swiftly in naming a successor to replace outgoing fest chief Alberto Barbera.

The producers feel the delays could cause considerable damage to the prestige of the fest and, indirectly, to the Italian film industry.

“The slowness with which the festival’s new board is being appointed and the serious organizational delays deriving from it stand to create uncertainty for the entire Italian film production system,” producers said in a statement.

The Venice fest traditionally has functioned as the principal international launch pad for major new Italian features, with homegrown pics such as Michael Radford’s “Il Postino,” Gianni Amelio’s “L’america,” and Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Beyond the Clouds” among films unveiled on the Lido in the past decade.

The absence of Italian films would open a significant programming gap for the fest’s unnamed new director, whose job already will be a tough one with only five months in which to assemble a lineup and mount the fest.

While talk continues to center on former Locarno fest topper Marco Muller and ex-Taormina fest chief Enrico Ghezzi as possible contenders for the Venice position, film journalist Piera Detassis has recently emerged as a candidate.

As editor-in-chief of monthly glossy Ciak, Detassis has film background and management responsibilities. Perhaps even more importantly, Ciak is parented by Berlusconi-owned publisher Mondadori, making Detassis a less ideologically alien choice for the job than her left-leaning rivals.

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