Topper Marco Mueller optimistic about future

ROME — With four more years looming on the Lido, Venice Film Fest topper Marco Mueller finally has a chance to take the event to a higher plateau.

Having just had his mandate renewed, a feat which due to political squabbling had not been accomplished by any of his predecessors since the 1950s, Mueller can now capitalize on that continuity to truly usher in a new era for the Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica di Venezia, as it is known in Italy.

For one, Mueller now wants to change that clunky name. But besides that, his longterm vision hinges on a futuristic new palazzo with a 2010 completion target, complemented by new hotels; a dream to build a massive floating screening venue on the lagoon in the city of Venice proper and installation of the latest 3-D and digital projection equipment. Another goal is to find, “as always, the freshest movies taking the pulse of what’s happening in world cinema, but now also targeting younger audiences,” he says.

In his first interview since being officially re-anointed in early January, Mueller was quick to point out that there won’t be any friction between the glitz and glamour side of the fest and the fact that a 2,400-seat space age theater shaped like an upside-down ship will be under construction next to the new palazzo during its upcoming 65th edition, Aug. 27-Sept 6.

“We need to prove that for the next two-and-a-half years, Venice will remain a very exciting place to premiere a movie, even though there will be a huge construction site,” Mueller says.

In a land where creative cosmetic paneling solutions to deal with architectural restoration and refurbishing are a constant, that shouldn’t be impossible.

Mueller is even hoping the completion date for the fest’s new infrastructure, which also involves elaborate catwalks with the Lido beach and the lagoon as backdrops, more new screening rooms and a market pavilion at or below sea level, could be accelerated to 2009, though that seems somewhat ambitious. After all, construction on the new $100 million palazzo has yet to start.

“There will be two separate phases. By September 2009, we will be able to define very clearly what we can do. Then we will know what is completely new and unprecedented and can be realized in the future after 2010 within the complex,” he says.

By then Mueller, a former Locarno topper, may know if his dream of building “a floating Piazza Grande within the Venice Arsenale with the lagoon all around it,” will be feasible.

He’s discussed it with Paolo Baratta, who has replaced Davide Croff as prexy of the Venice Biennale, who “shares my desire to be daring,” he says.

One thing that seems pretty sure is that the city of Venice proper, across the lagoon from the Lido, will be more utilized for galas, if only for contingency reasons while new digs are in the works. So expect more preems on the Piazza San Marco where “Shark Tale” had a memorable 2004 sendoff.

As for movies, after 10 days of making the rounds of distributors, Mueller would only reveal one title on his wish list: Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” which is being produced in 3-D and will rep that genre’s state-of-the-art, due for 2010 delivery.

Structurally, Mueller’s lean and mean lineup philosophy will remain in place. “Only if we show less than 60 features, most of them world premieres, can Venice definitely be an important platform.”

With fresh digs in place, Mueller still doesn’t see the new Venice turning into a bona fide market — not with Toronto and AFM already fulfilling that function.

“The respect we have for what Toronto has achieved can only lead to imitation,” Mueller says. “So we can just try to imitate them on a much smaller scale.”

What Mueller is mulling is a fall projects market, modeled on Rotterdam’s CineMart, which, after all, was his brainchild.

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