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Venice Festival Offers Bold Mix

Lido event welcomes autuers and newcomers for 70th edition

As the Venice Film Festival celebrates its 70th year, its lineup looks to the future, with a bold mix of name auteurs and newcomers, crowdpleasers and esoteric pics, sandwiched between two high-end 3D titles.

“For the 70th I didn’t want to assemble a festival that just celebrates itself and looks to its past, so I said: ‘Let’s take some risks,’ ” says festival director Alberto Barbera. “Let’s push out into the future and put some newcomers next to names that stand as pillars of moviemaking these days.”

Fest circuit faves launching their latest from the Lido include Terry Gilliam, Stephen Frears, Jonathan Glazer, Kelly Reichardt, Alfonso Cuaron, Kim Ki-duk, Amos Gitai, Hayao Miyazaki and Gianni Amelio, whose work will bow alongside those by potential discoveries in a selection characterized by “an element of surprise,” says the Venice topper, “and I’m not just referring to the first or second works; some of the new films from established directors take very surprising turns.”

But though he’s happy with his mix this year, there are two high-profile U.S. studio titles not bowing on the Lido that Barbera wanted to launch in Venice, and he’s not pleased about being snubbed.

Barbera had high hopes Sony would opt to preem Paul Greengrass’ “Captain Phillips,” toplining Tom Hanks, from the Lido, but the studio chose a New York Film Festival bow. And though Barbera does not mention it, Fox Searchlight’s “12 Years a Slave,” Steve McQueen’s period drama with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and Brad Pitt, is another case of a buzz pic taking the Toronto-first route, even though a Lido kickoff would have seemed natural, since McQueen was in Venice in 2011 with “Shame.”

“I think these are strategic mistakes. Either we work together, in which case we can find less-expensive solutions in our common interest; or things could take a bad tack because when they (the U.S. studios) need us, we might say ‘Why do you just come when it’s convenient?.’ ”

Not that American cinema is lacking in Venice with 18 features unspooling in the official selection, and seven in the main competition, including co-prods.

They cover the full spectrum from micro-budget works, such as Lindsay Lohan starrer “The Canyons,” Paul Schrader’s Kickstarter-funded take on contempo Hollywood; to Alfonso Cuaron’s 3D sci-fi thriller “Gravity,” toplining George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, from Warner Bros., marking the first time the Lido opens with a pic in that format. Both are screening out of competition.

James Franco’s Cormac McCarthy adaptation “Child of God,” David Gordon Green’s Texas-set thriller “Joe,” toplining Nicolas Cage, and Errol Morris docu “The Unknown Known,” which is a long interview with former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, are among U.S. entries competing for a Golden Lion.

This edition marks the first time Venice has docus in the main competition: “The Unknown Known” and Gianfranco Rosi’s “Sacro GRA,” about the grand loop thoroughfare encircling Rome. Barbera says no other top-tier fest has ever programmed two docs in competition before. Barbera has also made his slimmed-down Lido selection quite daring by allowing two first works to compete for the Golden Lion, one being “Parkland,” the directorial debut of U.S. scribe Peter Landesman, an ensemble drama looking at JFK’s assassination from multiple angles with a cast comprising Zac Efron, Marcia Gay Harden, Paul Giamatti and Billy Bob Thornton.

The Lido topper, now at the second edition of his current mandate (he had a previous stint as Venice chief between 1998 and 2001), is pushing the world’s oldest film festival into the future by transcending the function traditionally held by fests. The 70th will mark the first edition Venice screens three microbudget feature films shepherded by the Lido from development through distrib via its recently launched Biennale College.

“One is interesting; one is good; one is great, so I’m pretty happy about our first batch,” Barbera boasts.

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