New building, daring lineup point way forward

Change is clearly under way as the 66th Venice Film Festival kicks off Sept. 2 with under a construction zone, as new fest digs are being dug, and a daring and diverse lineup aims to take its cue from the upheaval and make this edition a watershed cinema celebration.

The fenced-off building site for the new Palazzo Del Cinema adjacent to the Casino, due for completion by 2012, has prompted Biennale prexy Paolo Baratta and fest topper Marco Mueller to turn some things around and make additions and modifications that should provide a taste of what’s to come. 

The Casino’s back doorway by the Lido lagoon dock, restored to its former Fascist-era splendor, is now the front, and only, entrance to the fest’s main hub.

Eager to start providing festgoers some sorely needed infrastructural improvements, a new but temporary 450-seat venue, the Sala Perla 2, which looks like a military barracks, has been built in front of the Casino, mainly for use by the independently run Venice Days and Critics Week sections. 

By contrast, to up the glam factor, a new red-carpet walkway flanks the Sala Darsena, formerly known as the PalaLido, which this year has been revamped and will cater primarily to the more cutting-edge Horizons section.

This year, the main red-carpet walkway in front of the existing palazzo is designed to be more functional, in a move by Baratta to do away with clutter and chaos. Gone are the Dante Ferretti-designed giant golden lions, for a more minimalist red carpet where red will truly be the dominant hue.

Working to become more user-friendly, the fest has arranged for  eateries in the vicinity to stay open as late as 2 a.m. and to keep price hikes to a minimum. Moves are also under way to reduce hotel costs — an age-old Lido sore spot.

“Finally we can prove that the new palazzo is not just an idea, and that  the change is much more than just a new venue, but the (change) of a whole system,” said Mueller. “Of course new screens will be built; but more than anything what counts is the possibility of making the experience of the festival a more pleasurable one.”

Having the new Sala Perla 2 means that starting this year the fest will be less congested and the schedule easier to follow.

For Mueller, “pleasurable” is the operative word when it comes to the lineup as well.

The selection this year comprises more countries, more newcomers, more Americans — including boatloads of stars — and more genre pics, with more 3-D on display than any other non-specialized event on the planet, and more Italian works. 

“There is plenty to choose from; although not so much that you would feel forced to miss something important,” said Mueller.

The Lido topper is particularly proud that “Tetsuo the Bullet Man,” the third installment in cult Japanese helmer Shinya Tsukamoto’s cyberpunk “Tetsuo” tale, will play at midnight while also competing for a Golden Lion.

“We want the cult movie audience for ‘Tetsuo’ but at the same time it’s a special film that we want in competition. Now we finally have the space to be able to that,” said Mueller.

The opener, Giuseppe Tornatore’s big-budget Sicilian epic “Baaria,” is the first Italian film to open Venice in nearly two decades.

“It bridges a 20-year gap in proving that Italian cinema can be capable of being popular and also very original,” Mueller enthused.

Following a litany of journo gripes about scarcity of star power at the Lido last year, Mueller has made sure that this edition will feed the global movie media beast.

After kicking off with “Baaria,” which will get the paparazzi started with a bevy of Italo stars plus opening ceremony hostess Maria Grazia Cucinotta, Viggo Mortensen will be on hand Thursday for John Hillcoat’s adaptation of Cormac McCarthy “The Road”; Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes are making the trek for Warner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant” makeover “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,” which unspools Friday; Tilda Swinton is Lido-bound with Italo helmer Luca Guadagnino’s “I am Love,” in Horizons on Saturday; Michael Moore will be tubthumping his “Capitalism: A Love Story” on Sunday, which is also the fest’s Disney/Pixar 3-D day with John Lasseter and his team being Lionized with a collective career nod.

“I was not expecting Michael (Moore) to chose Venice with one of his most ambitious, complex, symphonic films,” said Mueller, boasting that  Moore and Paramount Vantage’s choice of the Lido to launch “Capitalism” proves that for high-profile American films that aren’t blockbusters, “Venice has really become the perfect platform to underline that a film is very seductive.”

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