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Jury is out on Venice

Fest taps thesp Gong to top competish panel

ROME — Returning to a fest that previously honored her with its best actress award, Chinese star Gong Li has signed on as president of the official competition jury at the 59th Venice Intl. Film Festival, running Aug. 29-Sept. 8.

Gong’s association with Venice began in 1991, when she attended the fest as the star of Zhang Yimou’s “Raise the Red Lantern,” which won the Silver Lion award. Thesp returned in 1992 with “The Story of Qui Ju,” which earned her the Coppa Volpi for actress and the Golden Lion for director Zhang.

Gong also starred in the 1997 Venice competition entry “Chinese Box,” directed by Wayne Wang.

Venice fest director Moritz De Hadeln told Daily Variety he is awaiting confirmation that Gong’s most recent film, “Zhou Yu’s Train,” will be completed in time to premiere at the fest. Directed by Sun Zhou (“Breaking the Silence”), the film co-stars Tony Leung.

No boycotts

While the full Venice lineup is due to be announced at a Rome press conference Tuesday, De Hadeln scotched published reports that controversy over the removal of his predecessor Alberto Barbera from the job has caused some producers to boycott the event.

“Not a single invitation has been refused, except in cases where the film is unfinished or the release date is too far ahead to be benefited by a Venice premiere,” De Hadeln said.

While DreamWorks and Fox’s “Road to Perdition” had been widely tipped to open the Venice fest, De Hadeln said that director Sam Mendes’ scheduling problems have dictated a later screening date during the fest.

Tom Hanks will accompany Mendes to present the film, marking the actor’s fourth trip to the fest. Previous Venice appearances were with “Forrest Gump,” “Apollo 13” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

De Hadeln also confirmed that this year’s recipient of the Golden Lion for career achievement will be veteran Italian writer-director Dino Risi.

Considered one of the forefathers of the classic commedia all’italiana of the 1950s and ’60s, Risi’s best known films include “Il Sorpasso” (The Easy Life), “Poor but Beautiful,” “A Difficult Life,” “Love and Larceny” and “The Priest’s Wife.”

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