U.N.’s Annan hits Venice

VENICE — The filmmaking arm of the United Nations, long hobbled by the peacekeeping org’s overall lack of funds, is looking to step up activity through co-productions and Hollywood input, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said at a press conference Saturday at the Venice Intl. Film Festival.

“We deal with all of the problems of the world from war and peace to the environment to the status of women and children,” Annan said. “We want to engage directors and producers on these subjects.”

The secretary general was taking time out from emergency situations in Algeria and Bosnia to tub-thump for the U.N.’s little-known Gotham-based public affairs media division, which has produced more than 70 informational films since the org’s founding in 1946, including the Oscar-winning 1947 docu “First Steps.”

This year’s fest includes a sidebar of eight U.N.-produced shorts dealing with such subjects as the international movement to ban the use of land mines, the deployment of U.N. troops in global trouble spots and the independence struggle in Namibia.

Annan later exchanged ideas on fostering closer ties between his organization and the filmmaking community with Motion Picture Assn. head Jack Valenti, “Air Force One” star Harrison Ford and his screenwriter wife Melissa Matheson, and New York-based producer Ken Lipper, among others, at a luncheon given by Count Giovanni Volpi. Also present was Italian culture minister Walter Veltroni.

Volpi, whose grandfather was the founder of the festival, suggested that Annan’s visit to the Venice fest — a first by a U.N. chief — become an annual event.

The low-key affair contrasted with star-studded bashes regularly held in past years at Volpi’s palazzo, mainly due to the fest’s dearth of Hollywood product. This fact was noted with no small amount of irritation by Volpi, as well as observers on the Lido and water taxi drivers who say their usually robust festival business is down significantly this year.

Audience demand for “Air Force One,” which was shown Monday night in the midnight slot, was strong enough for the fest organizers to hastily arrange a second showing at 1 a.m. for the paying public.

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