A Ride in a Gondola : Look out, Cannes. Hollywood Execs Are Holding out for the Older and Classier Venice Film Festival

By Thomas, Dana | Newsweek International, September 6, 1999 | Go to article overview

A Ride in a Gondola : Look out, Cannes. Hollywood Execs Are Holding out for the Older and Classier Venice Film Festival


Thomas, Dana, Newsweek International


Last March, Alberto Barbera, the new director of the Venice Film Festival, went to Hollywood to apologize. His predecessor, Felice Laudadio, had spent two years ostracizing the U.S. film establishment by declaring his preference for young, unknown directors over august auteurs and top box- office names. But now Laudadio was gone, Barbera told American studio executives, and things were going to be different. To prove his point, Barbera expressed strong interest in showcasing the most-talked-about studio film of the year: Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut." He courted executives at Warner Bros. Pictures, which produced the film. But he had competition: organizers of the Cannes Film Festival wanted it, too.

The studio deliberated. Cannes is the world's largest film festival, but Venice is the oldest and classiest. Besides, Kubrick clearly preferred it. "Venice had favored-nation status with Stanley," says producer Julian Senior. Kubrick had sent "A Clockwork Orange" there in 1971, and in 1997 the festival gave him a lifetime achievement award. Studio executives reasoned that Venice could be the perfect launch pad for the movie's European release this fall."Sounds like a good idea," Kubrick said. He died three days later, on March 7.

On Wednesday the film's stars, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, as well as Kubrick's widow, Christiane, will glide up the red carpet of Venice's Palazzo del Cinema to help kick off the 56th Venice Film Festival, an 11- day event with enough Hollywood star wattage this year to light up the entire lagoon. The 17 films in competition include Antonio Banderas's directorial debut, "Crazy in Alabama," a Columbia TriStar offering starring his wife, Melanie Griffith, as a wanna-be movie star who offs her abusive husband. There are also two Miramax entries: Jane Campion's "Holy Smoke," a comedy about cult deprogramming, with Harvey Keitel and Kate Winslet; and Lasse Hallstrom's adaptation of the John Irving novel "The Cider House Rules," with Charlize Theron and Michael Caine.

The out-of-competition offerings are no less star-studded. Along with "Eyes," Venice will show the world premiere of Woody Allen's latest film, "Sweet and Lowdown," with stars Sean Penn and Uma Thurman on hand, as well as David Fincher's controversial "Fight Club" (next story). In addition, Martin Scorsese will unveil the first half of "Il Dolce Cinema," his three-hour documentary on the history of Italian film.

For actors and directors, attending Venice is like a ride in a gondola. Unlike Cannes, where tens of thousands of screaming fans mob celebrities and B-movie hucksters loiter in hotel lobbies, the Venice Film Festival is calm, civilized and elegant. "Venice is fun," says Rick Sands, chairman of worldwide distribution for Miramax Films. "There's no hype, no selling. You can direct your attention purely to the films. You can play there. You even get to sleep a little bit." Tom Cruise has been spotted practicing his topspin on the Hotel Excelsior tennis court and Andie MacDowell swatting a paddle ball on the Lido beach. Chinese director Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern," "Farewell My Concubine"), a Venice veteran who will present his latest effort, "Not One Less," there on Sept. …

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