Power struggle with culture minister continues

ROME — Moritz de Hadeln’s contract at the Venice Film Festival’s helm has been extended for three months until the end of March in a strong show of support for the teetering chief by the outgoing board of the Venice Biennale, the event’s parent organization.

Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani may yet unseat De Hadeln, but it is clear that neither the fest chief nor Biennale prexy Franco Bernabe have thrown in the towel in their complicated power struggle with the minister.

“Basically, I have a mandate to keep running the office,” said De Hadeln, whose contract ended on Dec. 31. “But it’s quite obvious that I cannot commit for the selection of a film at this stage.”

Bernabe and the Biennale board stepped down Wednesday when their mandate formally ended because of an overhaul that will transform the state-run entity into a partially privatized foundation.

While Urbani is eager to get rid of Bernabe and De Hadeln, he has failed to find candidates to step into their posts following heated controversy sparked by maneuvers in past months to undermine the Biennale and the fest’s autonomy.

These began shortly after the fest’s 60th edition, when the Golden Lion went to first-time Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s “The Return,” while veteran Italian helmer Marco Bellocchio’s “Good Morning, Night,” — considered a top contender — was given a much more marginal outstanding individual contribution prize for screenplay.

Hostility toward Urbani has been escalating among Italo industryites, who largely support De Hadeln and Bernabe.

This sentiment has spread to European film bodies including influential directors federation FERA, the European Film Academy and international film critics federation Fipresci.

All have rallied in support of plans by a group of former Venice directors — including Alberto Barbera, Felice Laudadio and Gillo Pontecorvo — to set up an alternative Venice fest if De Hadeln is unseated.

In the coming days Urbani will announce whether he will, as is likely, replace Bernabe. In that case De Hadeln’s Venice stint, which began in 2002, will almost certainly end.

But there is a slim chance the minister may backpedal, bowing to wide sectors of public opinion, and instead reappoint the outgoing Biennale topper to head the new Biennale. In that case De Hadeln would be part of the package.

“It’s a complicated situation for everyone involved,” De Hadeln said. “I could have said, ‘Thank you very much, go to hell, goodbye.’ But I did not. There is still hope that things could work out,” he concluded.

Swiss-born De Hadeln is the Venice film fest’s first non-Italian director.

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