Venice Film Festival 2011

Call it the curse of the Lido’s new Palazzo del Cinema. Plans to build new digs for the Venice fest have fallen through at least three times since 1938, when its current palazzo was built.

The most recent palazzo project to fizzle out is a $170 million structure shaped like an upside-down ship, laced in gold leaf, designed to integrate and expand the existing fascist-era structure.

After spending approximately $50 million to dig a huge hole under which layers of toxic asbestos were found, construction, which started in 2008, has ground to a halt.

But the good news is that, though the hole is still there, the fest has been moving swiftly to upgrade existing infrastructure. Also, luckily, the Lido hole — dubbed “ground-zero” by locals — does not impact the visuals of the Venice fest’s classy red carpet.

This year’s innovations include a totally refurbished Sala Grande, combining state-of-the-art viewing with vintage grandness; a radical rethink of the fest’s outdoor areas, some now managed directly by the Biennale, which is promising better bars and late-night eateries; more water buses from the Lido to Venice; and a shuttle bus connecting Lido locations for those who don’t ride bikes.

The shuttle service will also connect the fest’s main hub with a revamped area comprising a former army barracks and the Lido’s defunct Nicelli airport, giving more work and party space, as well as catering services open until 2 a.m.

In keeping with a spirit of doing what’s possible, rather than getting too grandiose, Venice will also be upgrading its other screening venues, starting with the Sala Darsena next year.

As for the hole, the plan is to cover it up and build a much more modest screening space on that site, one that does not require deep foundations.

“Finally the Biennale seems to be making the right decisions,” says producer Riccardo Tozzi, who heads Italy’s motion picture association, Anica.

Tozzi says he had always opposed a big new palazzo, arguing, “Venice needs to build on its unique character, not pretend to be Cannes.”

Of course, Tozzi laments, the lack of hotels on the Lido remains a major setback.

But Mueller has a potential solution even for that sore spot. The Lido topper would like to have an empty luxury cruise ship docked at a Lido pier during the fest, an idea suggested to him by producer Aurelio De Laurentiis.

“Our historic venues, and then an ocean-liner with 300 cabins that can be used as offices and also suites, both for screening movies and for sleeping. That would solve a lot of problems.”

VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2011:

Mueller navigates art, biz and glamour | Impressive lineup builds on perfect ’10 | | Art pics join Cattleya herd | Venice addresses venue woes with fresh plans | Horizon titles complement competish titles
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