Gondola hoopla

D'Works a splashy part of Venice fest plans

After staging a major Cannes invasion this year, the DreamWorks juggernaut will descend on Venice in the fall, as the fest begins to firm its lineup and introduce key structural changes.

While Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal,” starring Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, was previously announced as the opening-night out-of-competition gala at the 61st Venice Film Festival, DreamWorks also is finalizing plans for a lagoon bow of “Shark Tale” as a special event in the city’s historic Piazza San Marco.

“Shark Tale” was given a major promo push at Cannes with a 45-minute presentation including advance footage, attended by voice cast members Will Smith, Angelina Jolie and Jack Black. Domestic release is set for October, making the Venice event the computer-animated feature’s world premiere.

“I have refrained from asking Spielberg to preside over the jury because we would like to have more DreamWorks pics in Venice,” fest artistic director Marco Muller told Variety in Cannes, adding he is “looking for at least two big U.S. films for the competition.”

DreamWorks is expected to add to its Venice contingent with Michael Mann’s thriller “Collateral,” depending on the availability to attend of Tom Cruise, who last hit the Lido with Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.”

Also under discussion for a Venice bow is Paramount remake “The Manchurian Candidate,” directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Denzel Washington and Meryl Streep, both of whom would be return fest guests.

With four major studio pics already being positioned for Venice slots, the Italian fest would appear to be following Cannes’ Hollywood-heavy lead in its first edition under new chief Muller.

Other films believed to be Lido-bound include Italian helmer and former Golden Lion winner Gianni Amelio’s “The Keys to the House,” with Kim Rossi Stuart and Charlotte Rampling; Francois Ozon’s “5×2”; and Wim Wenders’ “Land of Plenty,” which will close the fest on Sept. 11.

Previously titled “Angst and Alienation in America,” Wenders’ post-9/11 drama about a stranger arriving in Los Angeles to seek out her last remaining family represents a symbolic choice to bow on the anniversary of the 2001 U.S. terrorist attacks. Michelle Williams and John Diehl star.

In a departure from past editions, the Venice closing ceremony will take place in La Fenice, the 18th-century opera house located in Venice proper that recently was rebuilt after being gutted by fire. That setting, together with the “Shark Tale” San Marco gala, represents a return for the Lido-based event to the city for the first time since the early 1990s, when the closing awards ceremony was held in the piazza.

Also being talked about for slots are Mira Nair’s “Vanity Fair,” starring Reese Witherspoon; Istvan Szabo’s “Being Julia,” with Annette Bening and Jeremy Irons; Spike Lee’s ensemble pic “She Hate Me”; and David O. Russell’s “I Heart Huckabee’s,” with Jude Law and Naomi Watts.

In his first major structural change, incoming Venice chief Muller has added an independently programmed sidebar that will echo parallel splinter sections like the Directors Fortnight at Cannes and the Berlin fest’s Forum. The addition of the 10-pic sidebar to the Lido fest will help counter the drop in the number of titles following Muller’s decision to eliminate the second-tier competition established by his predecessors.

Head of the section will be critic and industry operator Giorgio Gosetti, who previously ran state-backed film promotion agency Italia Cinema and, before that, served as unofficial deputy director to Gillo Pontecorvo during the latter’s tenure as Venice fest topper. Gosetti exited Italia Cinema following its transformation by Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government into the entity now called Audiovisual Industry Promotion.

Provisionally titled Giornate degli Autori and still shopping for an English-language moniker, Venice’s new non-competitive showcase will be dedicated to pics made outside the boundaries of commercial constraints. Similar to Cannes’ Fortnight, which is backed by Gallic directors org SRF, the fledgling section will be sponsored by Italian filmmakers association ANAC and by Italo independent producers trade body API.

“This will be a new space open to all kinds of directors with no limitations of any type,” Gosetti told Variety. “Young directors, old directors, I’ll take them all, based only on one criterion: their artistic freedom.”

The new Giornate topper said the focus this year will be European helmers, in tandem with the European Union’s recent expansion from 15 to 25 members.

“Here in Cannes, I’ve been in talks with Directors Fortnight head Francois Da Silva about starting a collaboration, and I intend to do the same with Berlin Forum chief Christoph Terhechte,” Gosetti said.

Venice now will have a multisection structure similar to Cannes and Berlin, with one main competition, a Venice Horizons section similar to Un Certain Regard, a small digital film section and midnight screenings. The Giornate and the Venice Critics Week will be independently managed.

The Venice fest runs Sept. 1-11.

(Adam Dawtrey, Anna Marie de la Fuente and John Hopewell contributed to this report.)