Production designer remembers brouhaha in 1998

Venice jury prexy Dante Ferretti is not a man to mince words.

“Are you asking me what on Earth possessed me do it?” says the revered Italian production designer, a 2004 Oscar winner for “The Aviator.”

As Ferretti well knows, last time the Lido tapped an Italo chief juror, just two years ago, all hell broke loose after a local pic, Marco Bellocchio’s “Good Morning, Night,” failed to nab a major prize.

On that occasion, Italian helmer and that year’s jury leader Mario Monicelli came under fire from fellow industryites and the media after the homegrown pic was snubbed.

“There may be some psychological pressures,” Ferretti says, calmly. “But we’ll just have to give the prize to the most beautiful film.”

Critics have charged that artistic merit was not chief among Italian director Ettore Scola’s criteria in 1998, when the Venice jury he headed up lionized Gianni Amelio’s drama “The Way We Laughed,” generally considered a below-par Amelio effort.

Ferretti, who has made six pics with Martin Scorsese, and was also a regular collaborator with late Italo greats Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini, knows beautiful cinema when he sees it.

“We Italians are a complicated people,” jokes the ace production designer, who works mainly with Hollywood helmers these days and just finished re-creating 1940s L.A. in Bulgaria for Brian De Palma’s “The Black Dahlia.” “But I don’t have these types of problems. I just hope to be up to the task, along with my colleagues.

“Don’t forget, I’m not alone in this, even though I do have an extra vote,” says Ferretti, a first-time juror.

His distinguished fellow Lionizers are producer Christine Vachon, helmers Claire Denis and Edgar Reitz, folksinger-thesp Emiliana Torrini, and the author and scribe known as Acheng.

“If somebody expects a prize, and then when they don’t get it, they think they’re being robbed, that can’t be the president’s, or the jury’s, fault,” he preemptively points out.

“Let’s just hope once the verdict’s out we don’t get mangled.”

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