The clock is ticking and the Venice Film Festival is still without an artistic director following the sudden withdrawal of Pierluigi Celli and Piera Detassis, who were both reportedly offered the top job last week.

Although Celli had initially indicated his willingness to accept the position, he has since emerged from preliminary meetings about the festival declaring that he has turned down the job because he feared that his autonomy would not be guaranteed. "It's a war zone, and I don't want to venture into another minefield," Celli said after a meeting with Biennale head Franco Bernabe and Culture Minister Giuliano Urbani.

His words were a veiled reference to his turbulent experience as CEO of RAI, a position he quit last year after heavily criticising the state broadcaster as being "ungovernable" and overly political. "I don't want to get into polemics, but I've tested the waters and spoken to a number of people who were going to be involved or will be working for the Festival," Celli said, "and I felt like I was going back in time."

Shortly afterwards, Piera Detassis, who is currently editor of Silvio Berlusconi's monthly film magazine Ciak, and was slated to work side by side with Celli, also turned down the position. "I am sorry that I won't be working with Bernabe, who is a good and courageous person. But I agree with Celli: I don't feel there are the right conditions to be able to work well [at the festival]," Detassis said.

The Biennale's board of directors, which was finally ratified last week, is now scheduled to meet on Thursday (March 21) to officially appoint a new artistic director. However, with a growing number of high profile people and former festival directors having reportedly been approached for the top position and turning it down - including Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Felice Laudadio, Marina Cicogna and Marco Muller, amongst others - few people are placing bets on who the next candidate could be. And many even believe that the job has now become a poisoned chalice.