Lido’s breakdown

Venice org topper tries to upgrade fest

VENICE — Franco Bernabe, topper of the Venice Biennale, the art and cultural organization that runs the Venice Film Festival, says “a combination of crisis and competition has hurt Venice since the 1960s” and even tarnished its reputation as a world-class fest.

He expressed his mandate to improve not only the logistical constraints of running a fest of this size on a spit of sand in the middle of a lagoon but also the atmosphere.

“But you cannot change Venice and you cannot change the Lido,” Bernabe told a handful of journalists at a lunch Tuesday. “The good thing is that here people can get together in a very close environment without much infrastructure.”

Fest director Moritz de Hadeln backed the need to “modernize” the Venice film fest machinery.

“I’m happy to have an entrepreneur next to me,” he said of Bernabe. “We play the same music.”

“Whether I stay next year or not doesn’t change a thing,” de Hadeln added, referring to rumors that politicos may sideline him. “The discussion will continue about whether the festival should be just about art or also about the commercial side of cinema. That decision won’t necessarily change the programming, but it will change the attitude.”

Trying to help Italy

Bernabe, the ex-Telecom Italia CEO, says he took the Venice Biennale gig to “help his country.”

“Everyone has to take a pro-bono position from time to time,” Bernabe said.But although Bernabe “loves art and culture,” others are not so sure that’s qualification enough and question Italian Prime Minister and media mogul Silvio Berlusconi’s appointment of a utility exec to top the Biennale.

“Bernabe running the Biennale would be like Henri Proglio (head of Vivendi Environment) running the Pompidou Center,” one French producer quipped.

The dapper Bernabe, speaking perfect English, told reporters that the Venice Film Festival must offer the “combination of interest and fantasy” that was inherent in its conception in 1932 as a way to fill the grand Lido hotels that stood empty during the Depression.