Venice Festival returns to roots, gets selective amid crisis

Only 60 films to showcase

Venice Festival returns to roots, gets selective amid crisis

(ANSA) - Venice, August 29 - The 69th edition of the exclusive Venice Film Festival will see quality prevail over quantity as event organizers increasingly return to the event's exclusive past with their increased selection process. With a view towards its Spartan roots, organizers have narrowed down the focus and have permitted a lineup of only 18 films to compete for its prestigious Golden Lion award. Even so, this has not served to ward off A-listers the likes of Kate Hudson and Naomi Watts, amongst the first international celebrities to arrive on the shores of Venice, in Italy. Stars including Ben Affleck, Joaquin Phoenix, and Robert Redford will embellish and entertain the world's oldest film festival that runs from August 29 to September 8. Amongst the films being showcased, Brian De Palma's Passion starring Noomi Rapace and Rachel McAdams, as well as cult U.S. director Terence Malick's To the Wonder with Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz. The plan has been to focus on its artistic heritage through the involvement of directors, courting culturally heavy-weight directors and not flashy Hollywood blockbuster stars. In fact, not by chance the festival will open on August 29 with the world premiere of Mira Nair's 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist,' loosely based on a best-seller about a young Pakistani whose Wall Street career flounders in the wake of the September 11 attacks. It ends on September 8, with the prize-giving ceremonies. The festival that is held in the historic lagoon town of Venice is from this year under the helm of Italian film critic Alberto Barbera, who returned to the top spot some 10 years following his previous stint. Barbera had directed the prestigious cinematographic event from 1998 to 2002, and is now seeking to further raise its profile when the whole sector is suffering from the ongoing global economic crisis. Venice will showcase a total of about 60 films this year, half of that which offered in previous years, and a far cry from Toronto's 300 or more movies. Even so, it has come a long way from the early days. When the festival was first launched in 1932, only nine countries took part, compared to more than forty this year. Back then, the festival premiered 25 feature films of which a third from the U.S., compared to 55 and 12 today. The event was the 1932 brainchild of Benito Mussolini, then-leader of Italy. It was turned into a permanent event two years later following the raging success of the first two festivals. The present day move is partly dictated by the times. Venice, in fact, has for years now been competing with the overlapping Toronto Film Festival. It also has another rival within Italian territory, the young fledgling yet successful Rome Film Festival that has been traditionally held in November over the past few years and recently hired Barbera's outgoing predecessor Marco Mueller. U.S. director Michael Mann will head the jury at this year's annual cinema showcase, held on the so-called Lido island across the water from the historic and achingly beautiful Canal City. He will be called to judge film like Palma's Passion, Susanne Bier's Italian comedy Love Is All You Need with actor Pierce Brosnan, Robert Redford's The Company You Keep, and Also in the running is Spike Lee's Michael Jackson documentary Bad 25. The main competition is not the only category to attract the crowds, as those on the watchout for up and coming filmmakers and innovative directors. For sure, what is arising from all the categories is the clear desire to rebuild Venice as an artistic venue, away from flash mega productions and celebrity endorsements.

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