Venice's Palazzo comes into focus

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It's a near certainty that ground will be broken on the Venice Film Festival's long-awaited Palazzo del Cinema in the spring, Venice Biennale president David Croff said Tuesday. The new building should be open for business no later than the 2011 festival — and perhaps as soon as 2010.

Speaking on the sidelines of a luncheon for the foreign press, Croff and Venice artistic director Marco Mueller basked in the positive feedback surrounding the lineup put together for this year's festival and discussed the latest developments regarding the Palazzo del Cinema project.

Croff stopped short of saying he is absolutely certain that the project will be carried out as planned but said that enough of the funding has been lined up to feel confident. The revamp will give the Lido a new 750,000-square-foot facility, including 11 cinemas and a main auditorium that seats 2,400. The new building, to be located directly behind the old one, will be ready in time for the 150th anniversary of Italy's independence in 2011.

"There's a chance the main cinema could be ready for use by 2010, but I wouldn't count on it," Croff said. "But it cannot go beyond 2011, we know that."

The timetable means that Venice will have three festivals — 2008, '09 and '10 — during which movement on the Lido will be hampered by construction efforts, with 2009 likely to be the most obstructed year.

"We'll have all the major facilities we have now during that whole time, but there will be a huge hole behind the current Palazzo del Cinema, which will affect parking and transportation," he said.

The €77 million ($105.5 million) revamp has been a pet project of Mueller's for years, and there is speculation that its imminent start might be a factor in whether Mueller and the Biennale will continue their association after his four-year mandate concludes next year. Some in the Italian press have guessed that Mueller might ask to stick around long enough to see the project completed.

Of the project's budget, the national and regional governments of Veneto each have committed €20 million ($27.5 million), with the municipal government for Venice expected to add to the kitty. The rest remains to be raised, Croff said.

In other Venice news, the Lido was abuzz Monday after comments from Richard Gere, who had harsh words for the Bush administration while promoting his new film, "The Hunting Party."

"How did we elect Bush twice?" Gere asked rhetorically during the film's press conference. "What's interesting to me is, how do the bad people among us end up our leaders?"

Charlize Theron joined the chorus during the press conference for "The Valley of Elah," about a U.S. soldier who disappears after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq.

"The decision-making process for going into Iraq was very hastily done, and I think the facts weren't there, and I just don't think you go to war for those reasons," Theron said. "I think the thing that upset me most was the manipulation that our government did toward our people, manipulating them to believe that if they weren't for the war, they weren't patriotic."

Meanwhile, sources on the Lido say that the thriller "Mad Detective," from Hong Kong directors Johnny To and Ka-Fai Wai, will be the surprise film announced today, pushing the number of competition films at the festival to 22. Last year's surprise entry — Jia Zhangke's "Still Life" — took home the Golden Lion.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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