Venice – the location for the ongoing Venice Film Festival - is flying all right, and the weather is bright and balmy.
Alberto Barbera had stepped into Marco Mueller’s shoes. Mueller had been at the helm of the world’s oldest Festival – celebrating its 80th anniversary – for eight years, and it was not going to be easy to trust a completely new man, especially after Mueller had pulled out a sinking Venice, and placed it firmly on terra firma.
However, midway into the Festival, participants who dared to take what some felt as risk are heaving a sigh of relief. Venice is flying all right, and the weather is bright and balmy.
Many had decided to go along primarily because they did not want to alienate Barbera. They all now seem happy.
The head of Exclusive Media, Alex Walton, said his decision to take films to Venice had been made before the succession drama began, and it was bad as what happens on political platforms the world over.
“Both of our American movies (Ramin Bahrani’s ‘At Any Price’ and Henry-Alex Rubin’s ‘Disconnect’) were in production during the Marco Mueller age, and there was always hope that Venice would showcase them. There aren’t many places in Europe, outside of Cannes, that set a film up on a prestigious level, and that’s very true whoever might be in charge,” he told the media.
Walton added that Barbera was determined to make his mark. “From our experience, the selection process was pretty brutal, and he really wasn’t pushed in terms of pressure. He chose the movies that he wanted.” Period.
Voltage Pictures founder Nicolas Chartier, who is pushing Robert Redford’s out of competition entry “The Company You Keep” felt that it was “not about supporting a new regime. The Festival has been good to me, I want to keep promoting films there, and it’s also a question of when my movies are finished. I would love to have a movie for Marco Mueller for his Rome Film Festival in November. I just have nothing that’s going to be ready then for a world premiere.”
Mueller now heads Rome. And indications are that he would make it a grand affair.
Fewer, but better movies
There are other movie executives who felt that Barbera’s move to reduce the number of films at Venice this year was indeed welcome. It was nicer to have fewer movies, but better ones. There was no point in pushing a whole lot of rubbish.
Venice has also been an important slot for all those films that do not travel to Toronto, a festival which follows soon after the one on the Lido ends. A Venice opening is really the kick-off for the Oscar race early next year.
However, now with a re-energised Rome set to make its mark in November, Mueller’s Festival could also be an important launching pad for the Oscars.
The other problem which Venice could face in the coming years is the absence of a viable market. Mueller had resisted having one, preferring to call Venice a purely arthouse fare, shorn of commerce. Barbera has introduced a market this year, though it appears quite insignificant now.
Also, the steep costs on the Lido have kept away a whole lot of American companies from Venice, and they have chosen Toronto, which is far less expensive and closer home.
One executive felt that Venice could aggressively promote its market by flying people in free.
But a Festival which seems so cash-strapped (attending journalists are not even given free water or coffee, unlike Cannes or Berlin) that free air tickets may well be the last goody which Barbera and his team are likely to offer.
Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.