ROME — Renewal is in the air as the 69th Venice Film Festival kicks off Wednesday with a new artistic director, the fest’s first bona-fide market, mildly improved digs and the premiere of Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which organizers say is emblematic of the Lido’s current credo.
The Venice Film Market runs Thursday through Monday, with some 980 industryites, including 250 buyers and around 50 sales agents, signed up.
“We know the market is a gamble but the turnout, though not huge, is higher than our expectations,” said Venice topper Alberto Barbera. “It gives us the feeling that Venice can become important even for companies that don’t have a movie here, and for those that in the past would bypass the Lido and go straight to Toronto.”
VFM chief Pascal Diot, who is a former sales exec, said he was “totally convinced that Venice, because of its importance and also being positioned as the first festival in the fall calendar, could really became a new place to do deals.”
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“Fundamentalist,” bowing out of competition, is produced by Lydia Dean Pilcher with Qatar’s Doha Film Institute, which also largely financed the pic.
It was acquired by Eagle Pictures for Italy before the start of the market.
Barbera, back in the Venice saddle after roughly a decade, said Nair’s political thriller, based on Mohsin Hamid’s bestseller “embodies the spirit of this year’s edition” and has all the elements that make for a perfect opener.
“It combines ‘Hollywood-style’ entertainment in the longstanding tradition of American political thrillers with a very powerful and realistic reflection on complex religious, political and economic problems of the present day,” Barbera said in a pre-opening day interview.
“Though I picked it purely by chance, Nair’s film is also symbolic of the increasingly tough task of striking a balance between artistic and market concerns and of new independant cinema production models,” he added.
As for infrastructure innovations, most of the gaping hole that was the construction site of the fest’s once-planned new Palazzo del Cinema has been covered with a walkway providing front access into the Venice Casino, one of the fest’s two main hubs.
The Palazzo project was scrapped after asbestos was found in the foundations, creating an eyesore on the Lido.
The new plan is for a makeover and revamp of existing structures, starting with the Sala Volpi screening venue which this year has been modernized and relocated from the Palazzo del Cinema into the Casino. A new screening room is also on the drawing board, to be built on a still uncovered part of the contruction site but with virtually no foundation to avoid dealing with the asbestos.
Meanwhile, Venice has installed state-of-the art screening facilities and projection systems for both digital and film prints, including the 70mm copy of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” playing in competition on Saturday.
“Compared with last year we have made a big improvement in the quality of screenings Venice can offer,” Barbera said. “And within the next three years our new facilities will be in place to create what is being called a citadel of cinema on the Lido.”