The 65th edition of the Venice film festival (August 27-September 6) may well be remembered as the year the world's oldest film festival greeted a bright new future.
After a very successful four years as artistic director, Marco Mueller has been reconfirmed for a second mandate, working alongside Biennale president Paolo Baratta, who returns after holding the position in 1998.
'We have very lofty goals,' Mueller says of their shared priority to upgrade Venice's screening facilities in the new Cinema Palazzo as well as their plans to re-furbish the Lido's existing cinemas.
Over the past four years, Mueller has been instrumental in revitalising Venice and personalising its presentation. Since 2005 he has opted for a slimmed-down 'quality over quantity' approach and ensured all the films in competition in 2006 and 2007 were world premieres.
Mueller has also played a big part in gaining approval for what will be the festival's centrepiece, the triple-theatre Palazzo del Cinema. A ground-breaking ceremony takes place during this year's festival on August 28 with a planned debut at Venice's 2011 edition.
After last year's festival, which saw Hollywood films dominate the main selection, this year's competition features an intriguing panoply of films from 18 countries.
'We were not expecting to have that many new names in our final selection. Major new talents are emerging from Africa,' says Mueller, referring to Algerian director Tariq Teguia. He points out that many films are cropping up from a new location - south-east Asia - and describes Plastic City from Chinese director Yu Lik-wai as 'the definitive work on the international mafia', with 'the type of scenes not shown in Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah'.
With Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, Gomorrah was one of the standout titles at Cannes, prompting feverish talk of a return to a golden age of Italian cinema. Venice features four premieres of Italian films, meaning Mueller has exceeded the festival's usual three-film limit on Italian titles.
'I would not have expected such mature, nomadic cinema,' he says of the Italian films in Venice's main competition. Three are set outside Italy: Marco Bechis' Amazon story Birdwatchers, Marco Pontecorvo's Pa-ra-da, a drama set in the Romanian capital of Bucharest, and Gianfranco Rosi's documentary Below Sea Level, which was shot in the US among the Slab City community on the border between California and Nevada.
Mueller admits he was frustrated in his attempts to snag US titles. Neither Gus Van Sant's Milk nor Jim Jarmusch's The Limits Of Control were ready for a Lido launch. However, he says of the US titles that will be screening: 'Rest assured, the films will deliver.' Mueller describes Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut The Burning Plain as 'the revelation of a new talent' and says Darren Aronofsky's The Wrestler and Iranian-born, New York-based Amir Naderi's Vegas: Based On A True Story will both showcase 'the other America'.
With the start of the Toronto film festival falling slightly later in Venice's schedule (September 4), Biennale president Paolo Baratta believes the industry exodus will be less acute this year, though he admits 'the competition is real,' and insists Venice's new cinemas 'will be very important in satisfying the public and the industry'.
Baratta and Mueller are confident the Lido's facelift, led by the new Palazzo, will confirm Venice as the most dazzling place to launch a film in Europe.
'We had to reassure producers and international sales agents that what we are going to do is to keep Venice as the necessary platform for those very special films that need an autumn or early winter release,' Mueller explains.
'It is important you don't just think of a new Palazzo. The overall impact will be that this is the most splendid complex of theatres that a festival could boast in Europe.'