Four more years for Venice's Mueller

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Marco Mueller will stay on as the Venice Film Festival's artistic director for four more years, while a former head of the Venice Biennale will return to that post to replace Davide Croff, whose mandate was not renewed last month.

Croff's replacement will be Paolo Baratta, a banker, former lawmaker and minister who was replaced by Croff in 2002, Italy's Ministry of Culture said Friday.

The fact that Mueller has been retained is a rare event for a festival that has seen six artistic directors in the past 19 years. Although Baratta must formally reappoint Mueller, the move is considered automatic.

Minister of Culture Francesco Rutelli called Mueller's work "excellent" and said that the festival will benefit from having the experienced exec at the helm for another four years. Without the renewal, Mueller's mandate would have expired at year's end.

During the past four years, Mueller has overseen a growth in Venice's stature through the selection of strong and highly visible films and the attraction of top-shelf talent to tread Venice's well-worn red carpet. During its past two editions, an astonishing 44 out of 44 competition films in Venice have been world premieres.

Additionally, Mueller and Croff together succeeded in securing funding for a much-needed update to Venice's crumbling Palazzo del Cinema — a move Mueller has long said is necessary in order for Venice to remain a top-tier event. The groundbreaking on the ambitious €77 million ($113 million) project will take place in early 2008, and the building will be completed by the start of the 2011 festival — the last year of Mueller's new mandate.

About €20 million ($29 million) of the new Palazzo del Cinema's funding has yet to be secured, something that Baratta — a noted fundraiser — is sure to be able to help with. Venice's finances improved substantially during Baratta's 1998-2002 tenure with the Biennale.

The head of the Biennale has traditionally been a political appointment, though in recent years that aspect of the job has been downplayed.

Baratta was appointed to the job the first time under a center-left government headed by then-Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema, and his mandate ended four years later when a center-right government under media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi made the call. Berlusconi appointed Croff, and Croff's mandate was not renewed, with another center-left government — this time under Romano Prodi — eager to return the position to the well-regarded Baratta.
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