Venice film fest fights its corner as crisis bites

Tue Sep 7, 2010 7:36am EDT
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By Silvia Aloisi

VENICE (Reuters) - A dearth of big Hollywood stars, Venice's notoriously high costs, fierce competition from Toronto -- this year's film festival on the Lido is fighting to keep its place on the map as one of cinema's most prestigious events.

The venue itself is a building site, with completion of the long-delayed new Palazzo del Cinema -- its main screening theater -- now not expected until 2012.

On the waterfront, the legendary Hotel Des Bains where Thomas Mann set his "Death in Venice" classic -- and Luchino Visconti shot its famous film adaptation -- is shut, and work is under way to convert it into luxury apartments.

With the recent financial crisis still biting, and both the industry and media in cost-cutting mode, the Mostra del Cinema is feeling the heat from the Toronto festival, which overlaps with Venice and is showing many of the same films.

Its location in North America, lower costs and the presence of so many deal-making industry executives all make Toronto a tempting and cheaper alternative for studios keen to showcase their films as the unofficial cinema awards race gets underway.

"For American stars it's just a lot easier to go to Toronto, and for producers it's a matter of money -- it costs a third of what Venice does or less," said Natalia Aspesi, a veteran critic for Italian daily La Repubblica.

As the festival, the world's oldest, hits the half-way mark ahead of the awards ceremony on Saturday, most film watchers agree this year's line-up on the Lido is strong but may lack the defining masterpiece that makes for a vintage year.

Films tipped to bag the top Golden Lion prize include China's "The Ditch," a hard-hitting look at the fate of political prisoners condemned to forced labor camps in 1960.   Continued...

<p>Actor Ben Affleck (2nd L), director of the out-of-competition film "The Town", takes a camera from a photographer as he arrives at the Excelsior Palace during the 67th Venice Film Festival September 7, 2010. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi</p>