Venice 2011

in 68th Venice Film Festival

by Paola Casella

When asked the question on whether or not Marco Mueller will stay on as Artistic Director of the Venice Film Festival, now that his eight-year (four plus four) mandate is about to expire, or rather move over to head the Rome Film Festival (which was born during Mueller’s tenure in Venice and tried to steal the spotlight from the oldest festival in Italy) he cryptically replied: “I have far reaching plans”.

At the conclusion of the 68th edition of the Mostra del cinema di Venezia, which was especially memorable for its lineup of good movies and glamorous stars (although plagued by a few technical and organizational problems, especially concerning 3D and digital screening), Mueller seems to come out on top, and many are saying he will stay on at the Lido, possibly for a far longer stretch (eight years in a row, with no half-way renewal, they say).

This, Mueller willing, could be made possible with the support of Italy’s newly appointed Minister of Culture, Giancarlo Galan, a longtime admirer of the work of Mueller and Paolo Baratta, Venice Biennale’s Ceo, also nearing the end of his tenure. Galan, who used to head the Veneto Region (where Venice is located), has already spoken in support of the Mueller-Baratta ticket, even if during their tenure some unpleasant events occurred: mainly, the failure of Biennale to build a new $170 million Palazzo del cinema, a result of lack of funds, local protests and, last but not least, the discovery of asbestos in the ground where the Palazzo was supposed to be built.

As it is, the Biennale ended up merely renovating the existing Sala Grande where gala screenings and red carpet parades have taken place since the Mussolini era, and instead of the grandiose construction for which the Biennale administration has already shelled out some $50 million, now sits a giant hole covered with white plastic sheets (some journalist observed that they should have at least transformed the whole thing in a Christo wrap-up, in line with the sensibilities of Biennale’s nearby visual arts expo). If he stays on, Baratta has promised to build a smaller construction over the hole, not requiring deep digging for new foundations, and to refurbish the Sala Darsena where the main competition screenings are held.

The Hole, as it’s now familiarly called, was not the only problem the Biennale has had to face: there were also protests from the Lido’s inhabitants, who complained too much attention was being given to art and culture and too little to their more practical needs, especially since several real estate projects were tied to the construction of the Palazzo which had nothing to do with public art and much to do with private profit.

But inside the screening rooms film critics and visitors alike were pleased with a program which included classic names such as David Cronenberg, Roman Polanski, Alexandr Sokurov, William Friedkin, Ermanno Olmi and Steven Soderbergh, as well as edgy newcomers such as British visual artists Steve McQueen and Andrea Arnold, Swedish genre-bender Tomas Alfredson, Iranian and Italian cartoonist Marjane Satrapi and Gipi, and Japan’s manga follower Sion Sono. We should have trusted Mueller to conjure up such an eclectic mix, in an edition that rivaled the best of international festivals in this, or any year.