‘Birdman’ Kicks Off Venice Film Festival

VENICE – Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s bold “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” sent the 71st Venice Film Festival flying high with journos almost unanimously raving about the pic following the packed morning press screening before stars Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Amy Ryan, and Andrea Riseborough pranced down the Lido red carpet on a balmy evening amid cheering fans and frenzied paparazzi.

The film, a Fox Searchlight/New Regency presentation, produced by Inarritu, John Lesher, Arnon Milchan and James W. Skotchdopole, will be released by Fox in North America on October 17 and will go out internationally in early 2015.

At the post-screening presser Inarritu said that after making purely dramatic films, such as “21 Grams” and “Babel,” he wanted to “go away from my confort zone and jump into something that I really wanted, but that I never thought would happen: which is to laugh on the set.”

“I’m very happy to have jumped to another genre; another way to make a new film, with a new team and a narative style that I had never attempted before,” Inarritu further elaborated.

The Mexican helmer was quick to point out that having Keaton, with his “Batman” experience, as his lead was crucial to “Birdman,” in which Keaton plays a washed out superhero movie star attempting to make a comeback on Broadway in his own theatrical adaptation of a short story by Raymond Carver.

“Michael was a pioneer of those superhero roles, and having some time and perspective I thought his knowledge about it, his experience about it, will get something very powerful for the film,” Inarritu enthused.

In order to get the very particular tone of the movie he “needed an actor who has the very rare ability to navigate between drama and comedy simultaneously.”

“Without him I don’t think this film could be made,” Inarritu said.

Keaton, in top form, was asked if his “Batman” successes had undermined his career. He admitted that his past superhero role was like “the giant elephant in the room.” But he joked that he’d recently returned from Africa, and that “I love elephants, so I’m okay with the elephant in the room.”

Another positive note, as Venice kicked off this this year, is the totally refurbished Sala Darsena venue, now upped from 1300 to 1400 seats with state-of-the-art sound and visuals. It follows the renovation of the Sala Grande, where the opening ceremony was held. All the Lido fest’s historic venues are now state-of-the-art.

The somber but classy opening ceremony was attended by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano and followed by a lavish dinner bash, featuring seafood extravagazas, for more than 1,000 guests on the Excelsior beach.

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