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Alberto Barbera succeeds Marco Mueller as Venice head

In a surprising turn of events, but which had been largely leaked in Italian wire reports, the board of the Italian Biennale arts organisation in a vote on Tuesday (Dec 27) has not confirmed Marco Mueller in the role of artistic director.

Mueller had served for eight years, the longest term for an artistic director in Venice’s history.

Instead, Alberto Barbera (pictured) , whose name had come to the forefront, has been the unanimous selection of the Biennale board, presided over by Paolo Baratta.

Barbera, born in 1950, began as a film critic and is a respected and capable industry professional, already recognised by the international community. He had led the Venice film festival from 1998-2002 and served on the Cannes film festival competition jury in 2010 and has served as director of the National Cinema Museum in Turin since 2004.

Baratta himself was nominated by neo culture minister Lorenzo Ornaghi, who came in as part of Prime Minister Mario Monti’s technical government. The nomination came in mid-nomination in mid-December and was approved by the Italian parliament in the days leading up to Christmas.

Baratta will continue to oversee the entire Biennale multi discipline arts organisation including cinema, dance, music, theatre and architecture.

The change in Mueller’s fate was likely a very recent development as at the end of the last Venice film festival, it seemed Mueller – who has been credited with artistically re-shaping the festival over the past eight years and has come to be a sort of golden seal for the Lido event – appeared likely to continue.

However, the infrastructure issues that had not been resolved, and which have begun to be addressed under Baratta’s presidency have predominated in the choice with the board opting for a new artistic who would lend support to a “light market.”

Problems on the Lido have been plentiful since the $135m (euros 100m) plan for a new Palazzo del Cinema had to be scrapped when asbestos was found where the foundation was to lie, leaving a gaping hole resembling a bunker in front of Venice’s Casino, a festival hub.

Indeed the Biennale press release focused on the need for support in resolving outstanding infrastructure issues on the Lido as well as the creation of a “light market” as the focal point of the incoming artistic director. Venice’s lack of a market has been an ongoing issue.

The release read: “…In order to face the ever increasing competition, the Biennale is committed to promote the reconstruction of the areas already under construction… over the next four years… the board of directors has chosen Alberto Barbera as artistic director of the Venice Film Festival … a director who will promote and follow this evolution with his already tested professionalism, intuition and creativity.”

The release also said: “It is important to invest in Venice’s position in the festival calendar.” It underlined “Barbara’s capacity to… develop an industry office – towards [the creation of] a “light market” with realistic but important goals.”

Barbara told ANSA news agency they will aim to “work across the board, as the Cannes film festival does,” underlining the necessity of a market.

A single line was included in the press release thanking Mueller for his contribution to the festival. Significantly, Mueller has been the longest surviving artistic director in the festival history and has re-shaped Venice with a very specific vision that included honing down the overall number of films and creating a more focused competition that gives ample space to Hollywood, experimental offerings, European auteurs and debut talents, all in world premiere.

Since Mueller was rumored not to be Venice’s choice, debate has erupted as the Rome Film Festival may snap him up.

Some of Rome’s founding members oppose this selection, calling him “too refined for a popular festival,” while others, including Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno, has come out backing Mueller at the helm of Rome.

Rome already has a moderately successful Business Street market event in place, which could create further tensions for Venice. The festival’s new president and artistic directors will be decided in mid-January 2012.

The Venice Film Festival’s 69th edition runs from Aug 29-Sept 8, 2012.

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