More U.S. pix, fewer prizes at Venice fest

ROME — Marco Muller, new artistic director of the Venice Film Festival, outlined his vision for the 61st event Wednesday: a slimmed-down affair featuring more Hollywood pics and fewer prizes.

Just back from a 10-day L.A. tour where he “met absolutely everybody,” Muller has high hopes that a rich crop of U.S. studio and indie titles will unspool on the Lido, starting with Steven Spielberg’s airport dramedy “The Terminal,” which opens the fest Sept. 1.

“We’ve been offered quite a few films from the U.S. as world premieres, which is really rather amazing. Some big films, too,” Muller said. “It was great. At several studios there were eight or nine executives lined up, and every single one had one or two titles to offer.

“That made me a lot more optimistic,” added Muller, who has four months to assemble his lineup for the 11-day fest.

The former Locarno topper has now inked his four-year Venice contract, up for review after his first year, and also quelled objections from the board of the Biennale, which oversees the fest, over his dual role as fest chief and Italo producer.

He has shed his controlling interest in his Downtown Pictures shingle and frozen his output deal with RAI Cinema. “RAI Cinema will only finance the films we had agreed upon before my Venice appointment,” Muller said.

Muller has the Biennale board’s greenlight for his vision of the fest: a smaller affair with no more than 60 titles in the official selection and a Venice Horizons section that will replace the Upstream parallel competition and award a single prize (decided by a separate jury). He will revive the Midnight films section and add a digital film section for 10 feature-length movies that will replace New Territories.

Japan connection

In his first press outing since fully taking Venice’s helm, Muller also underlined his warm rapport with Japan’s film industry, which stems from years of networking as a fest topper and cutting-edge film producer.

“Japanese producers will now look more to Venice as a venue to premiere their films because they know there is a chance I will upgrade their films to competition,” Muller said.

While he was mum about titles, the Muller hinted he has aces up his sleeve.

“The only thing I can only tell you is I’ve had several conversations with (Cannes honcho) Thierry Fremeaux,” Muller said. “He told me that some of the big names that had already won the Palme d’Or in Cannes would not get into Competition. Therefore, it’s very likely that those films would instead go to Venice.”

Titles being bandied about for Lido slots include Wim Wenders’ “Land of Plenty,” Michael Radford’s “The Merchant of Venice,” Michael Mann’s “Collateral,” Gianni Amelio’s drama “The Keys to the House” and Francois Ozon’s “5×2.”

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