Berlin's De Hadeln tapped for Venice

ROME — The Venice Intl. Film Festival has a new artistic director. Finally.

Ending weeks of speculation and misinformation, Moritz de Hadeln, who stepped down last year after two decades as executive director of the Berlin Film Festival, has signed on to head the 59th edition of the Italian event.

The decision was announced Thursday evening, following the inaugural meeting of the new board of arts institution the Biennale, which controls the Venice fest and is headed by recently appointed president Franco Bernabe.

De Hadeln now has only five months in which to become familiar with the complex Biennale structure, hire a programming team, assemble a lineup and prepare for the event, which runs Aug. 29-Sept. 8.

“We set a number of criteria for selecting the candidate and de Hadeln fulfilled every one of those criteria,” Bernabe told Daily Variety. “We needed to find a very experienced festival organizer, a person with an international profile and someone available to start work immediately. De Hadeln met all of those requirements.”

“I have considerable experience with festivals, but I’m new to Venice,” de Hadeln said. “I’ll give everything I can give to the job and establish relationships both with the industry and the creative forces. The festival cannot be revolutionized in five months, but I’ll construct whatever I’m able to construct.”

While previous information indicated that the cultural ministry of Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi-led center-right government was insisting on an Italian for the high-profile position, the appointment of Swiss citizen de Hadeln, 62, comes as no great surprise for a number of reasons:

  • The short time available to prepare for the event made it essential to enlist an experienced fest director.

  • A foreigner far-removed from Italian political factions stands to quell infighting over any representational imbalance between the country’s right-leaning political majority and its leftist film industry.

  • The threat of heavy-handed political interference and ill-feeling over the unceremonious dismissal of de Hadeln’s predecessor, Alberto Barbera, made the position an undesirable one to most of the qualified Italian names considered for the job.

“Barbera is a friend,” de Hadeln said. “He has enormous personality and was perhaps the only one of the festival directors I know who had real foresight about the future of cinema and the transformation heralded by the advent of digital. I’m sorry he’s not continuing in the job but this is an internal Italian issue.”

Stopgap solution?

Fueling the impression among Italian industry insiders that de Hadeln represents a stopgap solution until the “untouchable” status is lifted from the position next year is the announcement that the neo-director’s contract — along with those of the newly nominated chiefs of other Biennale divisions — covers only one edition of the fest.

Bernabe explained that the decision was dictated by changes being contemplated in the Biennale’s bylaws, which necessitate making short-term appointments only.

The Biennale prexy dismissed reservations about the difficulties for an outsider of adapting to an Italian structure and about the choice of a 30-year fest veteran to bring vitality and a new imprint to Venice.

“In Europe now, there are no frontiers, no borders, not even a different currency,” Bernabe said. “So one can’t really say de Hadeln is a foreigner. He’ll be working in a completely different environment that will stimulate him to bring something new to us. I think that any person with such vast experience always has something to bring to a job like this.”

While the exact reasons were never made public, de Hadeln’s exit from the Berlinale, to be replaced at this year’s edition by Dieter Kosslick, was a far-from-harmonious decision. After heading the German event from 1979 through 2001, he was nudged out two years before the end of his final contract.

De Hadeln had been praised for the exposure he gave to Asian cinema at Berlin before it was more widely embraced. But the fest topper was frequently criticized for what was considered an excessive predilection for star-laden Hollywood films.

Many feel the Berlin authorities hastened de Hadeln’s departure in order to redress the balance and heighten the profile of European cinema.

H’wood links welcome

Given the desire of Italy’s outspoken cultural ministry undersecretary Vittorio Sgarbi to boost the American presence at Venice and make the fest a more glamorous, less cinephile-oriented event, de Hadeln’s relationship with Hollywood should be welcomed.

Perhaps more troubling for the local industry is the perceived bias of the former Berlin topper against Italian films, which were largely absent from Berlin in the 1980s and early ’90s. However, this was undeniably a lean period artistically for national productions and the profile of pics flying the red, white and green flag has increased steadily in the past several years.

Much of the bad blood between Italy and Berlin was due not to any aversion of de Hadeln’s but to the abrupt withdrawal by producers of two confirmed Italian competition entries — Gianni Amelio’s “The Stolen Children” and Marco Bellocchio’s “The Prince of Homburg” — when a Cannes invitation came through.

During his 22-year stint with Berlin, de Hadeln programmed the official competition and out-of-competition entries. One of de Hadeln’s prime achievements in the latter years of his Berlin tenure was the fest’s relocation to the city’s historic heart in the reconstructed Potsdamer Platz.

Before that, the new Venice topper — who speaks Italian as well as English, French and German — was founding director from 1969-79 of the Nyon Intl. Documentary Film Festival in Switzerland. Concurrently, he was director of the Locarno fest from 1972-77.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the new Biennale board named Francesco Bonami curator of the 50th Art Exposition in 2003 and Deyan Sudjic head of Architecture, while Carolyn Carlson, Bruno Canino and Giorgio Barberio Corsetti were invited to extend their respective mandates for another edition each of the Dance, Music and Theater Biennale shows.

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