Venice reels in familiar face

Ousted de Hadeln refuses to sign severance contract

This article was updated at 9:27 p.m.

ROME — Former Locarno film fest topper Marco Muller is poised to take over the top spot at the Venice Film Fest, replacing artistic director Moritz de Hadeln.

The ousted de Hadeln says he will not sign a E20,000 ($24,000) severance contract offered by the Venice Biennale, which oversees the fest, because of a clause imposing a vow of press silence until after the next fest.

“They are trying to muzzle me, but my freedom to speak is something that is not negotiable,” the feisty former Berlin chief told Daily Variety.

The Biennale had no comment on the contract Wednesday, but a spokeswoman said the new topper should get the nod during a board meeting today chaired by new Biennale boss Davide Croff.

But de Hadeln is not one to go down without a fight.

The veteran festmeister claims that — besides wanting to muzzle him — the purpose of the proposed severance contract is to take him out of the race, despite the support of several Biennale board members, including Venice Mayor Paolo Costa, who want him to stay on.

“I will accept the board’s decision, but I’m not going to make their job any easier,” de Hadeln stated.

Swiss-Italian Muller, who has been running a Swiss-based film financing fund since leaving his Locarno post at the end of the 2000 fest, is well connected internationally and speaks 10 languages.

Even more so than de Hadeln, Muller is very much at home in Italy — and in fact was up for the job two years ago when de Hadeln was selected.

Despite the right-wing government in power in Italy, Muller is well known for his leftist leanings but is believed to have been biding his time while waiting for the Venice position to open and keeping a politically neutral public profile.

Biennale chief Croff now finds himself in a position identical to that of his predecessor, Franco Bernabe, with the task of appointing a fest topper who will have only four months in which to assemble a full lineup in time for the traditional late-July program announcement.

That time factor dictates that the job must go to an experienced fest technician with a strong network of contacts in place and a solid grasp of the organizational challenges involved.

Swiss-born de Hadeln, who became Venice’s first non-Italian chief in 2002, has been in a precarious spot since September after the 60th fest’s Golden Lion went to first-time Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “The Return.”

That didn’t go down well with Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani and some local industryites who weren’t happy that revered Italian helmer Marco Bellocchio’s “Good Morning, Night,” which had been considered a top contender, got only a marginal outstanding individual contribution prize for its screenplay.

The fact that any fest director in theory has little influence over an appointed competition jury failed to register with the political/cultural hierarchy in Italy, where the Venice fest traditionally has struggled to remain immune to political manipulation.

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

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