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‘Everest’ Gives Venice Film Festival Cliff-Hanging Launch

Venice will pay homage to Wes Craven with a special screening of "A Nightmare on Elm Street"

Baltasar Kormakur’s “Everest” kicked off the 72nd Venice Film Festival on an emotional note Wednesday as the mountain-climbing thriller, which had its world premiere out of competition, provided bursts of anxiety and cliff-hanging 3D drama, along with star power, to a Lido edition marked by many high-profile U.S. titles screening in the first few days alongside a robust representation of international auteurs.

Co-stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes, Emily Watson and producer Tim Bevan of Working Title strutted down the red carpet with the balmy lagoon in the backdrop, prior to the opening ceremony attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Also spotted: Netflix head of content acquisition Ted Sarandos, Cannes Film Festival topper Thierry Fremaux, jury member Diane Kruger, Luce Cinecitta president Roberto Cicutto, and the creme de la creme of Italy’s film industry.

Everest” drew a muted response at the press screening, as is often the case in Venice. But it certainly qualifies as one among the fest’s most spectacular openers, in line with “Gravity” in 2013, another star-packed 3D extravaganza with a you-are-there feel.

“The more you draw from reality, the more you get from reality,” said Kormakur after being greeted by warm applause at the packed press conference.

“You want to infuse it with compassion and intelligence and strength,” noted Jason Clarke, who plays Adventure Consultants guide Rob Hall in Kormakur’s depiction of the ill-fated May 1996 multi-expedition assault on Everest that left eight climbers dead.

The Universal pic, shot on location in Nepal on the foothills of Everest, and also in the Italian Alps, will be released in the U.S. on Sept. 18 exclusively on Imax 3D and premium-large format 3D screens and then go wide, including standard 2D and 3D, on Sept. 25. The Italian release will be on Sept. 24.

Earlier, at the festival’s opening press conference, Venice topper Alberto Barbera underlined how reality-based movies are playing a big part in the Lido lineup this year.

“Directors all over the world seem to be feeling an urgency to confront themselves with reality; to be inspired by reality, making movies based on real recent events, or historical ones, or contemporary themes,” Barbera said. “It’s not due to a crisis in creativity or imagination. I think directors are feeling a need to reflect on a world in which we all feel like we’ve lost control.”

The Venice topper also announced that the fest will pay homage to Wes Craven, whom he described as “a director who was able to renew one of the genres most loved by audiences, especially young audiences.” Fest has added a midnight screening on Saturday of Craven’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Cary Fukunaga’s hotly anticipated drama “Beasts of No Nation,” which stars Idris Elba as commander of a child soldiers’ guerrilla force in West Africa and will go out globally via Netflix, also screened for Venice press late in the day Wednesday, in a competition slot.

Tom McCarthy’s “Spotlight,” starring Michael Keaton, who starred in Venice’s opener last year, “Birdman,” follows Thursday, also in competition. “Spotlight” sees Keaton play Boston Globe reporter Walter Robinson, who headed the paper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of the 2003 Catholic Church sex abuse scandal. Scott Cooper’s Johnny Depp-starrer “Black Mass” unspools Friday in an out-of-competition spot. Another buzz title, Tom Hooper-directed “The Danish Girl,” in which Eddie Redmayne plays Lili Ebe, one of the earliest known recipients of male-to-female gender reassignment surgery, screens Saturday in competition.

The presence in Venice this year of so many hot U.S. titles, several of which will segue to Toronto, reflects a new detente among some of the heavyweights on the fall festival calendar with Toronto now less aggressive in pushing for world premieres. This bolsters Venice’s awards season cachet after opening with “Birdman” last year and with “Gravity” the previous edition.

“Gravity” director Alfonso Cuaron heads the Venice competition jury.

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