Alberto Barbera, back as Venice topper after a decade, is picking up where he left off with a slimmed-down 18-title competition lineup refelecting a “lean and mean” credo that places the Lido in sharp contrast with Cannes, Berlin, and Toronto.
“Starting with Cannes and Berlin, no festival today is immune from an unhealthy bulimic tendency to accumulate as many titles as possible,” he says, citing the Croisette’s packed 22-title competish roster this year before lamenting that “Berlin seems to add a new sub-section each edition” and features hundreds of titles “like Toronto.”
Barbera complains of a current frenzy that sees festivals try to boost their status by showing more movies, therefore doing a disservice to film directors since nobody has a chance to see them all.
“I said: ‘enough!’ – let’s go back to being selective with all the risks that this entails,” he thunders in a posh suite in Rome’s Excelsior Hotel on the Via Veneto.
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With a high-profile lineup comprising 50 world preems, in contrast with Marco Mueller’s 65 preems last year, Barbera, who also oversees Italy’s national film museum, seems bent on making his mark from the start of his return at the fest after being ousted after three years as Lido topper in 2001 by the Silvio Berlusconi government.
Besides reconfiguring Venice’s artistic vision, he is also launching the Lido’s first bona fide market, a big challenge, considering the Lido’s temporal proximity to Toronto.
The third prong of Barbera’s Venice makeover is an innovative film lab called Biennale College that will shepherd first works through their entire production cycle, from development through distribution.
Barbera’s selection mixes buzz pics from known names, such as Terence Malick’s “To The Wonder,” Brian De Palma’s “Passion,” Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” (the opener) and Olivier Assayas’ “Something in the Air” with potential discoveries in a carefully calibrated mix that, “purely by chance,” comprises twenty works by female directors, four of which vying for the Golden Lion. Cannes had no women helmers in competition this year.
The strong U.S. contingent, with eleven entries from American indies, well represents Barbera’s breadth. The competish, besides Malick, comprises works from established auteurs, such as Ramin Bahrani’s farming-family drama “At Any Price,” starring Dennis Quaid and Zac Efron, and Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” which stars James Franco as a rapper named Alien.
Unspooling out-of-competition are promising yank first features “Disconnect,” by Henry-Alex Rubin, who directed docu “Murderball,” and Ariel Vroman’s hitman biopic “The Iceman,” starring Winona Ryder, Ray Liotta, and Franco.
Not surprisingly, the Hollywood majors, which are increasingly less interested in festivals, are absent on the Lido, opting in some cases for a Toronto launch, such as Warner Bros. with “Cloud Atlas.”
“They figure: I can go to Toronto for less money; there are less critics there, and the [Canadian] audiences are suckers for anything,” says Barbera who boasts that being selective boosts the value of Venice as “a better brand,” while the presence of more global press on the Lido makes it a “stronger international media platform.”
Having retaken the reins, Barbera is particularly proud of this year’s Horizons, the competitive section for works by emerging directors which he established in 2001.
“It’s very compact; more homogeneous in terms of quality than the competition,” he says of the 18-pic Horizons roster which includes U.K. helmer Bernard Rose’s “Mr. Nice,” a two-hander about a limo driver and his predatory passenger, played by Danny Huston; timely Egyptian entry “Winter of Discontent,” which helmer Idrahim El Batout (“Eye of thr Sun”) started shooting during the first days of the Cairo revolution; and Iranian helmer Kianoosh Ayari’s “The Paternal House,” which Barbera calls “extraordinary.”
That said, he is quick to add that he’s “not 100 percent sure” of all his choices.”
“But I’m taken responsibility for saying that this is the best selection for this edition which has to be a mix of lots of things but, most importantly, a place to make discoveries and to give real cinema a big promotional push.”