ROME — Multihyphenate Marco Muller, 51, became Venice’s artistic director in March, ending a long political spat over who should hold the event’s top post. He has headed the Locarno, Rotterdam and Pesaro fests.
The new Lido lord is also a prolific producer, with a hand in shepherding several prize-winning pics, including Bosnian helmer Danis Tanovic’s Oscar-winning “No Man’s Land.”
Despite being a specialist in Asian and Third World cinema, Muller debuts on the lagoon with a Hollywood-heavy lineup.
Muller spoke with Variety Rome bureau chief Nick Vivarelli about his choices and the challenges that lie ahead.
Q: Italian politics ended your predecessor Moritz de Hadeln’s two-year rein in a way many thought was unfair. Are you afraid something similar could happen to you?
A: Let’s start with the pre-history. I had been offered the job twice before, and on both occasions I said no. The only reason I said yes this third time is because, finally, I got a proposal that was part of a whole process of rethinking Venice according to a new project.
Q:Yes, but the waters of the lagoon have proven to be pretty treacherous. Do you think you’ll able to pull it off?
A:In my case, so far, Italian politics have played a major role in slowing things down. First, in terms of the concrete procedures leading to my appointment. Then, after I had been appointed, there was a lot of turmoil over the supposed incompatibility — or conflict of interest — between my roles as fest director and producer. This meant I was only able to start working at the beginning of April.
Q: How important is the fact that you are the first Venice chief with a four-year mandate since Gillo Pontecorvo in 1992?
A: Obviously it’s important. But at the same time, I am also the only one for whom it is absolutely not a problem to reject any interference on the part of Italian politics and just leave on the spot. Because at any time I can go back to producing.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Q: How are you dealing with this conflict-of-interest issue?
A: Before taking on the Venice job, I had an output deal with both RAI Cinema and Istituto Luce. I had been in talks with Medusa about making some big-budget genre films with them, I had talked about co-producing projects with Domenico Procacci’s Fandango and also with (production house) Mikado. These are most of the big players in Italy. So anyone, at any time, can say that I might get money from these companies.
The only way I can deal with this is that I will not to start any projects during my mandate. I am no longer the CEO of Downtown Pictures, or of the other companies I was involved in. Of course, I could still try to curry some favor, but it would be a losing game because the moment I let one of them down, it would be a big mistake for my future. So the only thing I can do is be completely impartial.
Q: In the past decade, every time a new Venice director has come along, he has always selected lots of U.S. and Italian films his first year. This edition is no exception. Was it something you felt compelled to do?
A: The selection committee and I didn’t use any preset criteria. We simply based our selections on emotions, on our gut feelings, and then on some intellectual reasoning about which were artistically the better films.
Q: How instrumental was striking a relationship with DreamWorks early on, in your ability to lure so many Hollywood titles?
A: It did sort of create competition among the studios. Especially among studios that have a vision, that have films that needed a new type of marketing, with a twist. So I can certainly foresee that next year we will have many more requests from films that could play on Venice’s Piazza San Marco — like “Shark Tale” this year.
Q: Besides lots of Americans, plenty of established auteurs will be coming to Venice.
A: I think that to understand the programming of Venice, you also have to see what came before. Venice can only reflect some of the choices that are made by the Cannes festival. If it is a year in which Cannes wants to emphasize discoveries and new talent, Venice probably will be more about established names.
Q: Are you happy with your decision to scrap the two-tier competition?
A: Yes. For the first time Venice has a section recognizably about new currents, new trends, innovative cinema, and not just a parallel sidebar for everyone. Horizons is not just about new talent, it’s also about visionary documentaries and about the new aesthetic coming from the non-Western world.
Q: What’s the philosophy behind the new Venice Digital section?
A: It’s to prepare people for what is going to be our immediate future and also — I hope — the future in other parts of the world. You have to understand that HD cinema means a portable theater can be transported through any savannah or desert. It’s the solution to bring theatrical cinema back to countries where it has virtually ceased to exist.
Q: In May, some Italian industryites were a bit peeved that there were no Italian jurors in Cannes. And now there are no French jurors in the main Venice jury. Was it tit-for-tat?
A: No. It’s simply due to the fact that the three French directors competing belong to the middle generation. So it was hard to find an actor or actress, or a younger or older director, who was not associated with them in some way, either for having worked with them or for being known to either idolize or despise them.
Q: What are the prospects for a market? Does Venice really need one?
A: My goal for this year is to make sure that the Industry Office service center works beautifully. For the time being, Venice does not need a full-fledged market. Maybe Italy needs to see Milan’s Mifed market connected to the Venice festival, the same way that AFM is now connected to the AFI Los Angeles Intl. Film Festival. But that is not our decision.