Producer Branco bets the house

Estoril Casino hosting $1.5 million festival

LISBON The European Film Festival is betting that the casino that inspired Ian Fleming’s “Casino Royale” will pay off handsomely as the site of its inaugural edition.

Portugal’s plush Estoril Casino, which regularly attracts socialites to its cabaret shows and more than 1,200 slot machines, has made a major investment in order to host the $1.5 million event, running Nov. 8-17.

Portuguese producer Paulo Branco, no stranger to European film fests, is directing the event. With his shrewd gambler’s instinct and canny sense for turning political machinations to his own advantage, Branco — an accomplished horseman who sports a bushy moustache and likes to sit in his office in a 10-gallon hat — has brought an entourage of high-profile friends to the event.

Bernardo Bertolucci is the fest’s artistic adviser; David Lynch and Pedro Almodovar will be highlighted in major retrospectives. Branco has designed an innovative mix of master classes linking cinema to fashion design, music, photography, choreography and politics, given by the likes of helmers Almodovar, Werner Schroeter, Raoul Ruiz and French fashion designer Emanuel Ungaro.

“I wouldn’t be worth my salt as a producer if I weren’t able to find time to keep abreast of activities in the other arts, which I think play a vital contribution to cinema’s modernity and the emergence of new talents,” Branco says.

Branco’s French connection endows a strong Gallic flavor to the event, including a keynote speech by former French prime minister Dominique de Villepin, and three French films among the 14 in official competition, including two world premieres: “Le Tueur” by Cedric Anger and “L’ete Indien,” by Alain Raoust.

The fest includes a gathering, from Nov. 9 to 11, of 36 distributors from 16 countries, including panels on new media and screenings of Portuguese films.

The festival may offer relief from Branco’s recent business fortunes, including 2005’s liquidation proceedings for his former Portuguese multiplex chain, Millennium; and 2006’s Chapter 11 proceedings for his French production outfit, Gemini Films. .”At a time in which major changes are under way in the world of cinema, posing fundamental issues, this festival aims to refocus the debate on cinema’s true origins and its links to other forms of artistic creation,” Branco says.

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