Spielberg, Hanks pic lands Italo berth

ROME — Steven Spielberg’s airport dramedy “The Terminal” will bow internationally at the 61st Venice Film Festival, which has been set to run Sept. 1-11, the event’s new artistic director Marco Muller announced on Thursday.

DreamWorks’ Tom Hanks-Catherine Zeta-Jones starrer — skedded to open Stateside June 18 — will unspool on the Lido as an out-of-competition gala event.

Muller has been busy snapping up relatively high-profile titles even as Cannes is still firming its slate, reportedly having also invited Niels Mueller’s “The Assassination of Richard Nixon,” with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, Francois Ozon’s “5×2″ and Gianni Amelio’s drama “The Keys to the House.”

Venice’s upcoming edition will overlap slightly with the Toronto Film Festival, which runs Sept. 9-18. Situation is similar to last year, when the events ran concurrently during Venice’s final three days. This year the two fests will both begin a little bit later.

Muller’s first meeting with international press came one day after his dual role as fest chief and Italo producer came into question during a board meeting of the event’s parent org, the Venice Biennale, which in past months has seen plenty of bickering.

The new Venice topper said that when he took the fest job in March he handed over chairmanship of his indie shingle Downtown Pictures to partner Viviana Queirolo and shed his controlling interest in the Bologna-based company, in which he now holds an 18% stake.

But that may not be enough to stave off potential critics, especially in polemics-prone Italy.

“Everybody knows that I have an output deal with RAI Cinema,” Muller said. “Obviously, I am not going to favor them. If the board wanted to raise this issue, this could have been done earlier,” he added.

Muller went on to vow that “titles made by Downtown will not be going to Venice.” These include Italian actress Chiara Caselli’s directorial debut “L’isola,” which is in the pipeline.

Venice’s new boss — to whom the Biennale has given a four-year mandate — said that if the fest’s board continues to raise objections over the issue of his dual role, it will have to fire him at its next meeting, scheduled for April 27. At that time the Biennale board must also approve Muller’s vision for the Lagoon fest, which involves radically paring down the number of titles in its official selection to about 50 and doing away with its two-tier competition.

“My job is to select, not to program,” Muller commented, claiming that having two competitions did not mean more visibility for a greater number of titles. “We will have less movies and less prizes,” he said.

Muller also announced that he is at work on this year’s retrospective, which will celebrate Italy’s B-movie directors of the ’60s and ’70s, as part of a larger long-term Venice project titled “A Secret History of Italian Cinema,” he said.

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