Star power propels fests

VENICE — Like a rerun of the “Saving Private Ryan” debarkation on the Lido six years back, Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and a hefty DreamWorks and UIP entourage swept into the 61st Venice Intl. Film Festival to tubthump “The Terminal,” kicking off an edition marked by the heaviest Hollywood presence here in years.

Hanks and wife Rita Wilson, Spielberg and wife Kate Capshaw, jury member Scarlett Johansson and a swarm of Italo industryites and politicos inaugurated the Palazzo del Cinema’s catwalk, which features 60 gilded lions perched on 15-foot pedestals, each representing the grand dame’s past Golden Lion winners.

Also on hand were gondola-loads of Hollywood stars, including John Travolta, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Tom Cruise and Reese Witherspoon.

“The Terminal” got the paparazzi flashbulbs popping, but pic was met with lukewarm response from the international press.

Meanwhile, acquisitions execs from specialty labels Miramax, Fine Line Cinema and Paramount Classics are rallying for a first look at some key indie and foreign-language titles unspooling here.

High on the radar for pics still to be acquired is Todd Solondz’s dark teen tale “Palindromes,” one of the higher-profile English-lingo titles bowing in the Venice competition.

Another dark youth drama from a U.S. indie fixture, Gregg Araki’s “Mysterious Skin,” is expected to come under close distrib scrutiny as execs on the Lido attempt to get the edge on their Toronto-bound colleagues.

Buyers also are primed for Italian Gianni Amelio’s father-son drama “The House Keys”; prolific French helmer Francois Ozon’s dissection of a marriage, “5×2″; Belgian Frederic Fonteyne’s ’30s-set marital drama “Gilles’ Wife”; and Korean veteran Im Kwon-tek’s gangster saga “Raging Years.”

Up for grabs

Other key titles already have locked distribution deals, but are expected to galvanize the attention of international buyers in a handful of unacquired territories.

These include Jonathan Glazer’s “Birth,” starring Kidman; Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Sea Within,” starring Javier Bardem; “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Oscar-winning Japanimation maestro Hayao Miyazaki; Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake”; and Michael Radford’s “The Merchant of Venice” adaptation, starring Pacino.

While the acquisitions community tends to shun difficult-to-sell thematic omnibus films, the marketable subject matter and directorial pedigree of Wong Kar Wai, Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni, who each helmed a section of “Eros,” could provide some buyer enthusiasm.

Political presence

Wednesday’s late-starting ceremony kicked off with the obligatory round of bureaucrat-speak, and a larger-than-usual phalanx of conservative Italo politicos, led by Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani, all eager to stake their claim on the new regime of a festival traditionally aligned with the left.

However, new artistic director Marco Muller seems determined to shrug off the curse of politics that has dogged many of his predecessors, courting Hollywood as avidly as he courts the Chinese and East Asian filmmakers that have long been his prime passion.

“Some people are going to say I’ve sold out to the U.S., others are going to say I’m a Maoist communist nostalgic, others are going to say I’ve brought trash movies to the Lido,” said Muller, making reference to the Italian B-movie retrospective being godfathered here by Quentin Tarantino and Joe Dante.

Also on opening day, members of the press met the official competition jury, which, in addition to Johansson, includes president John Boorman, Spike Lee and Helen Mirren.

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