In film, recession may be a prime motivator of innovation.

THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL opens today with its share of big screen blockbuster potential, from DARREN ARONOFSKY’S BLACK SWAN to SOFIA COPPOLA’S highly anticipated SOMEWHERE and BEN AFFLECK’S sophomore directorial effort THE TOWN.

But festival director MARCO MUELLER said that the economic downturn has forced even big name directors to come up with cheaper means of production, giving rise to an in between budget category — bridging low budget under a million dollars and mid range of around $7.5 million to $9 million.

“In between there was very little. And now several people rush to occupy that special space,” Mr. Mueller told The Associated Press in an interview.

“Because it’s also the space with some local regional subsidy, some private money and maybe with a few distributors interested in the project you can get your film off the ground.”

OSCAR winning Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore, limited after last year’s big budget bonanza BAARIA, turned to documentary making this year with a portrait of Italian cinematographer Goffredo Lombardo still in progress, to be shown out of competition.

Vincent Gallo will be at the Lido both as an actor, playing a terror suspect plotting his escape in Jerzy Skolimowski’s ESSENTIAL KILLING and as the director of two films.

“Both films are entirely self produced. He started with a short film, then he actually realized that using the same mode of production he could dare to look forward to a feature,” Mr. Mueller commented.

The result is PROMISES WRITTEN IN THE WATER, which will compete for the GOLDEN LION.

The film tells a romantic story about a man — a professional assassin — and a woman confronting terminal illness. It was shot without preparation or a traditional script.

And U.S. director Monte Hellman, whose influence has been greater than his popular acclaim, will be showing his movie ROAD TO NOWHERE in competition. The film is described as a romantic thriller about a filmmaker who becomes involved in a criminal conspiracy.

“Monte made the film he has wanted to make for several years on a shoestring budget with an incredible cast using quite a few important names and all of a sudden we have a film with special effects. Without being a travelogue it does move to a number of countries and it cost less than $2 million.”

Second only to CANNES in terms of prestige, VENICE has suffered since the economic downturn of 2008, with many Hollywood producers preferring the cheaper option of taking their movies to the Toronto Film Festival, which overlaps with VENICE.

However, MARCO MUELLER has continued to insist that his festival will accept primarily world premieres — 79 are showing at this year’s festival — and believes that events are moving back in VENICE’S favour.

“A lot of people now are counting on a two step operation where the visibility, the credibility of the film is built in Venice, Venice reveals the immediate esthetical qualities of the film or everything that makes this film very exciting. And Toronto reveals the market value of the film.”

The VENICE fest opens with an unprecedented triple header: GOLDEN LION winner DARREN ARONOFSKY’S BLACK SWAN and Hong Kong director ANDREW LAU’S THE LEGEND OF THE FIST: THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN, followed by a special midnight screening of ROBERT RODRIGUEZ’S MACHETE.

“I can predict that at midnight the atmosphere will be the atmosphere of a rock concert or a football match,” Mr. Mueller stated.

Festivities got under way Tuesday evening with a tribute to one of Italy’s most famous cinematic and theatrical actors, Vittorio Gassman, with a free open air screening of the 1974 classic SCENT OF A WOMAN in a Venetian square attended by the Gassman family.

In addition, the Italian edition of VANITY FAIR is hosting a party in a palace on the Grand Canal for QUENTIN TARANTINO, who heads the jury that will select the winner of the prestigious GOLDEN LION on September 11.

And the industry publication VARIETY is holding a big party where it presented producer Aurelio De Laurentiis with an award.

“America considers the movie business the first business of the country, how to export their taste everywhere,” Mr. De Laurentiis said as he accepted the honour.

“I’m sad (that) in Italy we have a lot of things but we never use movies to bring outside of our territory our values.”

MARCO MUELLER had to hit each of the events within the space of three hours — no easy feat when boats plying Venice’s canals must comply with strict speed limits.

“If we speed, they will give us a speeding ticket. Every year the boat I use gets a speeding ticket. They plant them right where we have to go.”

“Fantastic,” he commented with a glint of amusement.

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