There could hardly be a more telling sign of the glamour overload on the Lido this year than watching Johnny Depp work the crowds in front of the red carpet at the bleary eyed time of 2.15 am just before the screening of Miramax's Finding Neverland, which started around two and a half hours late.
Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein was in playful mood at the gala screening, having previously discussed with artistic director Marco Mueller the lengthy delays which have marred the first few days of the festival.
"Welcome to the breakfast screening of Finding Neverland," an almost unrecognizably slimmed-down Weinstein told the audience." This morning, Marco Mueller will be serving croissants, and I'll be teaching him the meaning of 'timing.' Then I'll drown him in the Lagoon."
The audience, which according to the Biennale, is up this year by 30%, is visibly happy with the glamour and buzz surrounding this year's festival - as is the Italian government, who specifically asked the Biennale to bring on as many A-list stars as possible, and whose delegations have been attending numerous screenings.
But it is precisely the number of stars attending the event and the amount of time they are spending on the red carpet (one and a half hours for Tom Cruise and 30mns for Johnny Depp) that is, according to Mueller, one of the many reasons behind the delays which have, so far, been the festival's burning issue.
Mueller admitted that in terms of delays, Saturday, when The Merchant of Venice and Finding Neverland were screened, "was Doomsday."
"1,500 people showed up to watch Tim Robbins's film Embedded, which is playing in the Digital section. The screen where it was showing has a seat-capacity of 600."
During a meeting with the international press on Monday, Mueller and Croff said they were trying to "mitigate" the problem, by adding staff, and trying to better space out screenings, although they admitted that at least this year, they couldn't "work miracles."
"We have several problems," Mueller said, explaining that most of the Hollywood stars have come in the first five days of the festival, before they head off to Deauville and Toronto, and delays have accumulated as they work the crowds. Many have also arrived late for their screenings and press conferences.
Half-hour security checks before each screening - although welcome - have also caused delays, organisers said, pointing also to the hefty presence on the Lido of carabinieri and anti-riot police with shields, who are there to keep an eye on the hundreds of Italian anti-globalisation protestors and French Intermittents du Spectacle currently on the Lido.
Mueller and Croff also blamed the small capacity of the Sala Grande, which was built by Mussolini in 1936 and has a paltry 1,000 seats.
A new Palazzo del Cinema with 2,400 seats is expected to be built by 2008.
In the meantime on Day 5, as the Venice 61 competition unfolds, Mike Leigh's Vera Drake appeared to be the front-runner for the Golden Lion, followed closely by Alejandro Amenabar's The Sea Inside. Mira Nair's Vanity Fair, while not quite considered a top contender, was also popular, and advance buzz on Nicole Kidman vehicle Birth, which screens on Tuesday, is strong.
The festival has also had two competition misfires so far: many were unhappy with Greece's dark entry, Delivery, and Michele Placido's Italian title, Ovunque Sei, received a mauling during its press screening on Sunday night. The drama provoked giggles and boos throughout the second half of the press screening, although some felt that a screening in front of a more sympathetic public audience could produce a different reaction.
It is early days yet, but many regard the out-of-competition section as one of the festival's strongest, with Michael Mann's Collateral universally applauded (and many feeling it should have played in competition). The Manchurian Candidate has also been popular. Other much-applauded films that are not playing in competition include Gregg Araki's Orizzonti title, Mysterious Skin and Finding Neverland.