National Film Museum chief returns to Lido

A power play at the Venice Film Festival has prompted the appointment of Alberto Barbera as the Lido’s new artistic director, replacing Marco Mueller, who has been ousted after successfully heading the fest for the past eight years.

Barbera, topper of Italy’s National Film Museum in Turin, previously headed Venice between 1999 and 2001. He was guest director at Telluride in 2002 and, more recently, a member of the Cannes jury in 2010. Barbera now has a four-year mandate to head Venice.

The widely respected Mueller has not been reupped by Venice Biennale topper Paolo Baratta in the wake of a power clash over the Lido’s infrastructural and lodging deficiencies, long-lagging issues over which Mueller wanted more say.

The move, which reflects the volatile mix of jockeying and politics that permeates the Italo arts world, sets the stage for a paradoxical tables-turning scenario: Mueller is now maneuvering to take the helm of the rival Rome Film Festival with an ambitious plan to boost the international profile and industry standing of the Eternal City’s upstart event.

Barbera, a film critic and former Turin Film Festival topper, certainly has cachet and expertise. But there is some questioning among Italo and international industryites about why, after Cannes and Berlin earlier this month extended the mandates of respective toppers, Thierry Fremaux and Dieter Kosslick, Venice is instead opting for an — albeit excellent — new chief for what appear to be purely “political” reasons.

Long-term leadership at these other top-tier international events indicates that continuity is deemed key to building and maintaining the solid industry rapport that is ever more crucial as competition in the global fest arena gets increasingly cutthroat.

Venice, meanwhile, is saddled with the fallout of its failure to build its planned new multimillion-dollar Palazzo del Cinema after asbestos was found in the foundation. A smaller structure that doesn’t need a foundation is now planned but is not likely to be completed before the fest’s next edition, running Aug. 29-Sept. 8.

There is also the potential snag of announced renovations of the Hotel Excelsior, the fest’s industry hub. The hotel’s management firm, EstCapital, has clarified that the Excelsior will not shutter in 2013, as some Italo industryites had expected. But EstCapital has not indicated yet when these extensive works will take place. However, on a positive note, the Hotel Des Bains, the fest’s other historic hub, will reopen in 2013.

Rome, by contrast, has two spanking new facilities, the Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium, as well as the city’s Zaha Hadid-designed new contempo arts museum, which will become the hub of its budding Business Street mart.

Mueller has the support of Renata Polverini, governor of the Lazio region, comprising Rome, to head the Rome fest with a wide-ranging purview. He has told local news agency Ansa that he would welcome the “stimulating challenge” to raise the bar for Rome.

A decision on whether Mueller will take the Rome reins is not expected before mid-January.

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