New talent gets cash boost at Venice film fest

The Venice film festival kicks off on Wednesday with the arrival of stars by water taxi, while the next generation of cinema talent for the first time takes part in a gap-financing initiative.

New talent gets cash boost at Venice film fest
The Venice film festival begins on Wednesday and will run until Septmber 6th. Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP

Taking the stage first at the world's oldest film festival will be Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance, starring Michael Keaton of Beetlejuice and Batman fame.

In the first of 20 flicks vying for the coveted Golden Lion award, Keaton plays a washed-up actor once famous for playing a superhero, who is now struggling to put on a broadway play in a bid to regain his former glory.

Crowd-pleaser Inarritu, best known for his films 21 Grams and Babel, pampers fans by bringing on board other superhero veterans for the movie, including Emma Stone from The Amazing Spiderman and Edward Norton, star of the 2008 The Incredible Hulk.

Other hotly-awaited world premieres include Good Kill by New Zealand's Andrew Niccol, starring Ethan Hawke as a drone operator in Afghanistan, and David Gordon Green's Manglehorn with Al Pacino as an ex-con turned locksmith with a broken heart.

French film composer Alexandre Desplat – whose dozens of works include the scores for The King's Speech and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – will head up the main jury at the festival, which runs until September 6th.

Desplat was among the cinema luminaries quaffing prosecco at the festival's opening party on a roof terrace near Saint Mark's Square in the floating city on Tuesday, kicking off a fortnight of glamorous beach galas and red-carpet ceremonies.

Festival director Alberto Barbera brushed off criticisms that this year's edition was light on Hollywood stars, saying the aim of the organizers had been to create space for high-quality, innovative flicks which risk falling through the cracks.

"I have nothing against glamour, but it cannot be the only component in a festival. The idea is to explore cinema today in all its complexities," he said.

The festival is bringing a new generation of artists to the Lido this year with its first edition of a gap-financing market – which matches young producers in need of funds with investors and distributors – as well as Final Cut, which showcases finished films from Africa and the Middle East to buyers.

While still in its infancy, the Venice market – now in its third year – recorded a 25 percent increase in the number of producers and agents attending last year, with a particularly strong showing from China, according to Barbera.

There is buzz from critics already over the only first feature competing for the Lion, the Turkish Sivas, by Kaan Mujdeci, about a young boy who befriends a dog he saves from a fight in a bid to protect himself from a violent society.

American Ramin Bahrani looks at the fallout of the economic crisis with his drama 99 Homes about a father trying to recover his house after an eviction, while Russia's Andrei Konchalovsky dwells on loneliness in "The Postman's White Nights".

The only documentary in competition is The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer's follow-up to his acclaimed 2012 The Act of Killing, which this time sees Indonesian genocide survivors confront the killers of their brother.

Out of competition slots have gone to US director Peter Bogdanovich's She's Funny That Way, a comedy starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston, as well as American Lisa Cholodenko's four-part HBO series Olive Kitteridge, starring Bill Murray, and pulp master Joe Dante's horror comedy Burying the Ex.

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Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.