Felice Laudadio, the former Venice Film Festival director who is now head of the Taormina film festival, has announced that all the ex-directors of the prestigious event on the Lido will hold a special meeting on Saturday to "defend the autonomy of the Biennale."

Those expected to attend the conference will include Alberto Barbera, head of the festival between 1999 and 2001, and former Venice directors Gillo Pontecorvo (1992-95), Carlo Lizzani (1977-82) and Laudadio (1996-98).

At the meeting, the Venice directors will discuss "the autonomy of the Biennale (the organization that manages the festival) which has been seriously undermined by the government's legislative decree," Laudadio said.

The meeting will be held in Rome's Campidoglio, which houses Mayor Walter Veltroni's offices and will also be attended by the former heads of the other sections of the Biennale, which include dance, music, theatre and architecture.

Laudadio said: "We hope that Moritz de Hadeln will be reconfirmed in his position as head of the festival in 2004. This would be a strong sign of autonomy from the Biennale, whose board of directors will meet on December 5.

The Italian government has been pressing ahead with plans to overhaul the statute of the Venice Biennale, and has now approved a draft law to turn it into a foundation that will be partly financed by private individuals.

The government's recent greenlight came on the shoulders of a huge polemic which erupted in Italy after the media got wind of plans for the Venice Film Festival to be run by the state-owned Cinecitta Holding and National Film School, as well as the Biennale.

Critics argued that the new organisation would potentially undermine the festival's autonomy and cause a massive conflict of interest, since Cinecitta is directly involved in the promotion of Italian film.

Since then, plans for the Venice festival to be run by the Biennale, Cinecitta and the National Film School, have been dropped. However, it has emerged that while Cinecitta and the National Film School will not directly manage the Biennale, they will still act as consultants, and as such, will have a say in the festival's programme.