LONDON — Now that the Venice Film Festival has finished its 60th unspooling, it’s time to retire the term “Euro Big Three” as a euphemism for, “We all know the Cannes Film Fest is No. 1 and, oh yeah, there are these other fests in Berlin and Venice.”
What a difference a year makes.
In 2002, Cannes was bulging with hit films like “The Pianist” and “Bowling for Columbine,” and its buzz could not have been better.
But both Berlin Fest director Dieter Kosslick and Venice chief Moritz de Hadeln in 2002 were in their first year of leadership at their respective fests. And while their initial lineups were equally solid, they offered no sign of a major challenge to Cannes’ primacy as the key Euro fest in terms of media attention, glamour, film sales and buzz.
In 2003, the changes were dramatic and immediate.
Kosslick’s Berlin Fest started the year with a high-voltage bang. Rolling out the red carpet for Oscar contenders such as “Gangs of New York,” “Chicago,” “The Hours” and “Adaptation,” the glamour quotient had never been higher. The competition selections and sidebars were terrific.
Cannes, as has been widely reported, did not have a stellar year in 2003. There are clearly questions of direction and succession that must be worked out. In the wake of this May’s mishaps, the partnership of longtime Cannes leader Gilles Jacob and relative newcomer Thierry Fremaux is under intense scrutiny.
Programming leadership aside, the costs of Cannes, both fest and market, continue to bedevil a hard-pressed film industry looking for corners to cut. If you ask any Cannes vet to compare the street, cafe, hotel and sales suite traffic of Cannes 2003 with that of years past, they’ll tell you the trend is toward belt-tightening, not yacht-cavorting.
As for Venice, 2003 was a triumph. The fest discovered major new filmmakers like Golden Lion winner Andrei Zvyagintsev (“The Return”) and drew oceans of ink for the celebs on hand, including George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Sean Penn, Woody Allen and Emma Thompson.
So what happens next?
In 2004, thanks to the pressures of Oscar skedding changes, there’s a high likelihood that Berlin will continue or even expand its role as a high-profile film launchpad. Add the potential for the Berlin Market to make substantial hay from the disputes between AFM and Mifed scheduling and you have good news for Potsdamerplatz.
It’s unlikely that May 2004 will see a repeat of Cannes’ 2003 misfortunes, and I wouldn’t bet on a retreat from the French resort’s position as Euro film fest champ anytime soon.
Many of the organizational bugs that have plagued the Venice fest for decades seem finally to have been addressed, if not solved, and there’s a renewed determination in Biennale chief Franco Bernabe and his ally, the eternally feisty de Hadeln, to get the historic Venice bureaucratic nonsense under control. And with the one-two punch of Toronto and Venice as showcases both for Oscar contenders and important new products, life on the Lido in 2004 looks bright indeed.
The upshot? Fests two and three are now whispering rather than shouting distance from No. 1.
In 2004, Cannes, Berlin and Venice will be one scrappy, unhappy and fiercely competitive trio. And “Euro Big Three” will be the euphemism for, “It’s a three-horse race.”