High Noon on the Waterfront; Venice Is Rising from the Doldrums to Outshine Cannes as the World's Premier Film Festival

By Norman, Neil | The Evening Standard (London, England), August 29, 2003 | Go to article overview

High Noon on the Waterfront; Venice Is Rising from the Doldrums to Outshine Cannes as the World's Premier Film Festival


Norman, Neil, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: NEIL NORMAN

FAR from being civilised celebrations of world cinema, film festivals are arenas for internecine showdowns.

As Cannes clings to its golden palm as the world's most prestigious film festival, Venice is preparing to usurp the crown. Like Avis, Venice tries harder. Where Cannes this year was one of the dullest on record, the 60th Venice Film Festival has attracted a spectacular roster of films and stars.

Venice boasts Woody Allen's latest film, Anything Else, Robert Benton's The Human Stain, Ridley Scott's Matchstick Men and Bernardo Bertolucci's The Dreamers, plus headline-grabbing movies from Robert Rodriguez (Once Upon a Time in Mexico), Merchant/Ivory's Le Divorce and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's 21 Grams. The latest film from the Coen brothers, Intolerable Cruelty, will also be screening in some form.

So much for movies. Venice has also secured the stars. Nicole Kidman will challenge Catherine Zeta Jones for the unofficial title of Queen of the Lido and Johnny Depp, Antonio Banderas and Anthony Hopkins will vie for leading man. In spite of Italian government budget cuts, this year's festival is a triumph for Moritz de Hadeln, a British-born Swiss who served 20 years as executive director of the Berlin Film Festival. Landing in Venice in 2001, he had just four months to organise his first festival. His tenacity and credibility rallied powerful friends in the film community and his espousal of new filmmakers (he was one of the first to champion the new Chinese cinema) gives him a distinctive edge.

The problem is that there are far too many film festivals. One correspondent told me some years ago that she could go from one festival to the next for 364 days of the year without ever coming home. The situation has since worsened. At four major festivals - Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Toronto - each director seeks to create an identity: a combination of star-studded glamour to draw paparazzi to the red (or in the case of Venice, blue) carpet, and a serious selection of the best international cinema. The balance is extremely difficult to get right. Go too far down the celebrity route and everyone accuses you of selling out to Hollywood; shift the focus to world cinema and everyone complains about the lack of stars.

VERY few Hollywood movies are worthy of competition status.

They receive a festival premiere to drum up publicity for both film and the festival. This is the candyfloss aspect. But both Gilles Jacob of Cannes and Moritz de Hadeln of Venice are serious cineasts who long to represent all filmmaking communities in order to present a comprehensive and exciting festival to please audiences who are generally more cine-literate than the average filmgoer. …

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