Venice fest finally gets its new man

Muller is 1st chief with multiple-year contract since 1992

ROME — Former Locarno film fest topper Marco Muller was confirmed as director of the Venice Intl. Film Festival on Thursday and given a four-year mandate, ending a crisis that had been crippling the Lido.

The Italo-Swiss Muller, 50, who also headed the Rotterdam and Pesaro fests, will replace Moritz de Hadeln, ousted by Italian Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani after a protracted power struggle.

“Muller is a true pro,” said Davide Croff president of the Venice Biennale, which oversees the fest. “After all the controversy, I really cared about sending out a clear signal. Now we’ve got to get to work to put together a great festival.”

Muller is the first Venice chief with a multiple-year contract since Gillo Pontecorvo in 1992 — a pointed gesture. De Hadeln received a year-to-year contract.

While the new Lido lord may still be subject to political interference, that mandate should allow him to work on long-term structural and organizational changes and give him a chance to put his stamp on Venice.

Muller’s contract does contain a clause that allows the Biennale to fire him if they are unhappy with how he handles the upcoming 61st fest in the fall.

He will have five months to assemble the lineup, which is traditionally announced late in July.

Muller, a prolific film producer, got the nod Thursday during the first meeting of the recently revamped Biennale art foundation’s new board.

“This is the most prestigious position that an Italian festival maker can aspire to,” said Muller, who had been a candidate for the top Venice post twice before.

“My challenge will be to assemble a festival that meets the needs of those who make movies, those who distribute them, and those who go see them.”

De Hadeln, the vet former Berlin fest boss, became Venice’s first non-Italian chief in 2002, heading two editions.

Ending his stint on a conciliatory note, he expressed hope that the climate surrounding Venice would now become “more serene, so as to guarantee further growth.”

The Biennale thanked De Hadeln for contributing to consolidate the festival’s prestige.

An Asian and third-world cinema specialist who speaks 10 languages including Chinese, Muller stepped down from Locarno in 2000 and became a producer, setting up clothing retailer Benetton’s Fabrica Cinema film unit.

With Fabrica, Muller has been involved in making a slew of prizewinning titles, including Bosnian director Danis Tanovic’s Oscar-winning “No Man’s Land,” Chinese director Zhang Yuan’s “Seventeen Years,” and Iranian director Samira Makhmalbaf’s “Blackboards” which took Special Jury prizes, respectively in Venice and Cannes.

In 2002 Muller set up his Bologna-based shingle, Downtown Pictures, whose pics include Turkish/Cypriot director Dervis Zaim’s “Mud,” which unspooled in Venice last year.

It is not clear what will now happen to Downtown, which has several projects in the pipeline, including “L’isola,” the directorial debut of Italian actress Chiara Caselli (“Ripley’s Game”), and a new project “Carmilla” from Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky (“Anatomie”).

A Biennale spokeswoman said Muller will hold a press conference in coming weeks to talk about his vision for Venice and will also soon announce the dates of the fest’s next edition.

(David Rooney in New York contributed to this story.)

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