Venice Film Festival's U.S. Presence Subdued,
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Foreign art films largely dominate festival

VENICE — The absence of hefty U.S. fare is beginning to be felt as the Venice Festival enters its second stretch.

Many of this year’s really big guns — the Weinstein Co.’s Oscar hopeful “The Imitation Game,” Denzel Washington starrer “The Equalizer,” David Fincher’s “Gone Girl” and Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Inherent Vice” — are now firing off at Telluride, Toronto and even, in Anderson and Fincher’s case, the New York Film Festival.

Ethan Hawke starrer “Good Kill,” sold by Voltage Pictures and on paper Hollywood’s biggest indie commercial play at Venice, has still to world preem on the Lido. Given the high costs of opening a film on the Lido, especially for star-studded U.S. movies, however, Venice’s 71st edition raises the question of whether the balance of fest power is shifting to North America.

In the past two decades, Venice has held world premieres for several hundreds of U.S. works, including Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut,” Oscar-winners “Brokeback Mountain” and “The Hurt Locker” and George Clooney’s “Michael Clayton,” plus obviously “Gravity” last year.

With “Philomena” also bowing at Venice in 2013, Venice seemed a launch pad for Oscar contenders and weightier specaility fare, but, if foreign distributors are to be believed the only big premiere to date with definite mainstream potential, despite films by U.S. legends such as Peter Bogdanovich, Barry Levinson and Al Pacino, was Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman,” which opened the 71st edition.

But one edition may be simply too short a time to tell about longterm fest trends.

Venice stil has important U.S. supporters. Harvey Weinstein flew into Venice for 24 hours. “For Europe and Italy, Venice remains a great place to premiere a film,” said Voltage Pictures’ Nicolas Chartier , which also has on the Lido Joe Dante’s horror-comedy Burying the Ex,” with Anton Yelchin and Ashley Greene.

But so far, certainly, it has been art of films — foreign-language, genre and crossovers — that have largely dominated buyers’ interest at Venice. A brace of early films charmed most critics, including “Birdman” and Benoit Jacquot’s “Three Hearts.” Cohen Media Group bought the Elle Driver-sold “Three Hearts,” starring Catherine Deneuve and Charlotte Gainsbourg and Chiara Mastroianni. Among other early screeners that look set to spark biz from Venice play are Ramin Bahrani’s HPI-sold “99 Homes,” Joshua Oppenheimer’s rave-reviewed documentary “The Look of Silence” and Xavier Beauvois’ “The Price of Fame,” from Wild Bunch.

“Silence,” hailed at Venice as a potential Oscar docu contender, was picked up for the U.S. by Drafthouse Films/Participant Media while I Wonder took the rights for Italy.

“We have many bidding wars and in other countries are finalizing negotiations, so I really think we’ll be locking in Toronto,” said Cinephil’s Philippa Kowarsky about the action around the feature doc.

Variety judged “’99 Homes” Bahrani’s “best chance to date of connecting with a wider audience.”

Already pre-sold by Wild Bunch to 20-plus territories. “The Price of Fame” also played to upbeat reactions. Germany and Italy are now under negotiations, said Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval. “Even critics noticed and wrote that the audience was laughing at every line and was moved by the humanity of the film. This is a warm crowd-pleaser and we hope Telluride will help for the remaining English-speaking territories,” he said.

Bowing Sunday and pre-sold to 10 territories, Laurent Cantet’s “Return to Ithaca,” hawked by Funny Balloons, also sparked buyer interest, as did David Delfhoffen’s Viggo Mortensen starrer “Far From Men,” pushed by Pathe.

Finecut’s Young Joo Suh confirmed the Italian sales, struck  before Venice, of Kim Ki-duk’s “One on One” and Hong Sangsoo’s “Hill of Freedom,” both bought by Andrea Cirla’s Fil Rouge Media.

A new European Gap-Financing Co-Production Market fortified the boutique Venice Film Market, where trading, often in preparation for Toronto, was steady.

In trading at the Venice Film Market, where attendance was in line with 2013 at about 1,450 participants, competition player “Tales,” from Iran’s Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, was eliciting strong interest in Benelux and the former Yugolslavia, said Noori Pictures’ Katayoon Shabadi.

Germany and Turkey are in discussions on Toronto player “The Grump,” said Chris Howard at Finland’s the Yellow Affair.

U.S. distributor and Canadian producer Silver Sword Intl. closed seven more U.S. markets on documentary feature “Spitfire Liberator: The Alex Herbst Story.”

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