P.M.'s visit floats Venice fest's boat

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi speedboated to the Lido to pledge government backing for the Venice fest and its quest for a new Palazzo del Cinema on Tuesday, just as Gianni Amelio’s “The Missing Star,” the first of two Italo pics in competish, unspooled to a warm response.

Prodi’s trek to the lagoon marked the first time in 30 years that Italy’s top pol has paid a visit to the festival.

At a midfest luncheon with international journos, Biennale prexy Davide Croff and fest topper Marco Muller both said they considered the premier’s presence a clear sign the government will allocate some coin for construction of its planned new venue, which will incorporate the current 1934 structure.

The government has “realized something really has to be done about our 70-year-old infrastructure,” said Croff, adding that once the financing is in place, the new palazzo — which would include a market area — would take about three years to build. The financing is expected to come from both central and local government coffers.

Asked what the next step will be, Croff succinctly replied, “A check.”

New digs would put Venice in a different position in its competition with the nascent RomeFilmFest, which has a spanking new Renzo Piano-designed auditorium as its main screening facility.

Another key pol present on the Lido was culture minister Francesco Rutelli, who, in uncharacteristically low-key fashion for an Italian minister, attended the “Missing Star” press screening, where the film was cheered.

Produced by Cattleya and RAI Cinema, the China-set drama stars Sergio Castellitto as an engineer working in an Italian steel mill that gets sold to the Chinese and transported to China.

Italo pic was partly shot in the Shanzi region of China, which is the setting of the fest’s surprise added competition title, director Jia Zhang-Ke’s drama “Still Life.”

Chinese helmer previously brought “Platform,” in 2000, and “The World,” in 2004, to the Venice competish.

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