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Ex-Venice toppers rally for autonomy

Italo parl is prepping for Biennale restructuring vote

The drama is supposed to be onscreen.

But the awkward convergence of Italian politics and cinema this year is setting up a dramatic conflict over the future of the Venice Film Festival.

A group of former fest toppers — led by Felice Laudadio and including Alberto Barbera, Gillo Pontecorvo and Carlo Lizzani — is rallying to keep the fest and its parent org out of the Italian government’s clutches and to get the contract of current topper Moritz de Hadeln renewed.

The Italian parliament is preparing to vote on a radical Biennale restructuring plan, which envisions three politically appointed toppers for the fest rather than just one boss.

The moves to undermine the fest’s autonomy follow controversy after the 60th fest in September, when the Golden Lion went to first-time Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s “The Return,” while veteran Italian helmer Marco Bellocchio‘s “Good Morning, Night,” a top contender, was given the much more marginal Outstanding Individual Contribution prize for its screenplay.

The changes in the fest’s org would also force Venice to link up with state-run Cinecitta studios and the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school which, as “consultants,” would have some sway over the fest’s lineup and jury.

“It’s clear that the government wants to gain control of the Biennale and we’re not going to just stay idle and let it happen,” Laudadio tells Variety.

The protesters are supporting Biennale topper Franco Bernabe, who has been engaged in a power struggle with Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani.

Bernabe is expected to confirm De Hadeln as chief for the 61st edition, which would be his third, on Dec. 22, before parliament votes on the Biennale bill. But De Hadeln may not be firmly in place unless the power struggle is fully resolved.

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