Oneof the favourite betting games at the Rotterdam festival this week has beenspeculation about who will front the next Venice festival, with the smart moneynow riding on a split role between a figurehead chief and a chief selectoror artistic head.

Sources close to the Venice festival organisation say that an announcement is imminentand that veteran Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini will be anointed ashead of the festival, in what could be a largely symbolic role.

Asuave leading man who won the Best Actor award at Cannes in 1973 and thenearned an Oscar nomination three years later for his performance as aconcentration camp inmate in Seven Beauties, Giannini is most closely identified with hisdirectorial collaborator Lina Wertmuller. His English-language credits includesupporting roles in Ridley Scott's Hannibal and Tony Scott's upcoming Man On Fire.

Therumour mill also has it that Marco Mueller, the former head of the Locarno filmfestival in Switzerland, could later be announced as the chief selector. Askedto comment by ScreenDaily inRotterdam, Mueller replied merely: "I am a producer these days."

Venicehas felt like a festival without a clear sense of direction for a couple ofyears having been buffeted by waves of political turbulence emanating from primeminister Silvio Berlusconi's office and more recently from culture ministerGiuliano Urbani.

FrancoBernabe was recently deposed as head of the Biennale, the institution thatspans both the film festival and other elements of the Mostra art fair. Earlierthis month, Bernabe's replacement was announced by Urbani as banker DavideCroff.

Thecharged political and financial climate meant the departure of film festivalhead Alberto Barbera after the 2001 event. Midway through 2002 he was replacedby former Berlin film festival chief Moritz De Hadeln, who then managed to puttogether a creditable selection in only a few months.

DeHadeln survived long enough to head the 2003 festival, but was kept on atemporary contract until the end of December. That contract was recentlyrenewed - but only for a further three months until March.

Muellerhas the credentials necessary for the chief selector job: unlike De Hadeln,Mueller is an Italian national; he has a strong artistic track record datingback to his days at Locarno and from his current job at Fabrica Cinema, theproduction boutique backed by textiles giant Bennetton; he is said to havepitched his hat into the ring in the past.

WhileDe Hadeln still stands a chance of holding on to the job, another name that hasrecently been tipped for the role of artistic chief include Irene Bignardi, thehighly-rated former La Repubblicacritic who currently heads Locarno. But Locarno officials have told ScreenDailythat Bignardi is committed to acontract in Switzerland for 2004 at least. It is also far from clear whetherher political leanings are compatible with Berlusconi's nationalist tendencies.

Any appointment would haveto be approved by the board that was appointed at the same time as Croff: PaoloCosta, mayor of Venice and Biennale number two; Giancarlo Galan, president ofthe region of Veneto; Luigino Busatto, president of the province of Venice, andlawyer Bruno della Ragione.