Marco Mueller's future at fest in doubt

ROME — The Venice Film Festival is in turmoil due to political power play that will determine whether artistic director Marco Mueller remains at the helm.

Venice Biennale prexy Paolo Baratta was reupped Thursday by Italy’s newly installed post-Silvio Berlusconi government, leaving large sectors of the local film industry wondering whether Baratta will resolve his differences with Mueller over the fest’s digs and continue their collaboration or look for a new Lido topper.

Friction centers around the Lido’s infrastructure woes, which fulls under Baratta’s purview. Work on the venerable fest’s planned new multi-million dollar Palazzo del Cinema ground to a halt after asbestos was found in the foundation, leaving the open-air construction site looking like a war zone. A smaller structure that doesn’t need a foundation is now planned but this is unlikely to be built before the next edition of the fest.

Baratta has also had little luck persuading hotel owners to cut the exorbitant hotel prices that make Venice hugely expensive for industryites and film fans to attend.

Mueller would like more input in dealing with both these problems — indeed, his prestige is seen as the best way to counterbalance the fest’s infrastructural deficiencies. But Baratta, emboldened by his reappointment, is not expected to be willing to cede much ground to his artistic director.

According to sources, new Italo culture czar Lorenzo Ornaghi contacted Mueller shortly after reupping Baratta, opening informal negotiations.

Baratta’s mandate will not kick in until early January, when a decision must be made.

Consensus is that Mueller is not just the best man for the job, due to his standing within the international industry and vast web of contacts, but also that he is crucial for Venice not to sink.

Mueller, who has offers from the Rome Film Festival plus events in Russia and Japan seems keen to stay at Venice, but is also determined to be able to cater more directly to industry needs.

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