Venice film fest, opening this week, is still a cinema lifeline

Sun Aug 24, 2014 11:05am EDT
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By Michael Roddy and Isla Binnie

LONDON/ROME (Reuters) - Saverio Costanzo, the Italian director of the New York City-set low-budget drama "Hungry Hearts" that will compete for the top prize at the Venice Film Festival opening this week, sees the exposure his film will get as a godsend.

"For a movie like this a festival is crucial," Costanzo, who said he made the movie for under 1 million euros (1.32 million US dollar), told Reuters.

"We need the festival to make a buzz so people know about the film and Venice is a festival that is full of passion."

That is a welcome endorsement for the Venice Film Festival's 71st edition, which opens on Wednesday with the much-anticipated world premiere of "Birdman" by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and starring Michael Keaton as a former superhero trying to make a comeback.

Although it is the world's oldest film festival and perhaps its most glamorous, with stars chauffeured to the red carpet on Lido Island by motorboat water taxis instead of limousines, it struggles, a bit like the city, to keep its head above water.

"For the longest time it lived off its reputation for being one of the oldest, one of the most prestigious, one of the most gorgeous places in Europe but in the last few years it's lost a bit of its purpose because the independent and arthouse film industry has been hard hit," said Scott Roxborough, German bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter trade publication.

The festival's director, Alberto Barbera, who was brought back in 2012 after an eight-year hiatus, has introduced a host of innovations to keep Venice relevant at a time when the Tribeca Festival in New York in April steals some of its artistic thunder and the Toronto Film Festival that begins next week has become a global cinematic mega mall.

Toronto shows hundreds of films while Venice screens 55, 20 of those competing for the top Golden Lion award.   Continued...

A statue of a lion, the symbol of the 69th Venice Film Festival, is silhouetted in Venice August 28, 2012. REUTERS/Tony Gentile/Files