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VENICE — Michael Jackson was the talk of the town on the Venice Lido on Friday, with the world premiere of Bad 25, Spike Lee’s documentary celebrating the 25th anniversary of Jackson’s megahit Bad.
Also on the agenda Friday was the festival’s top career prize, the Golden Lion, presented to Italian filmmaker Francesco Rossi following a screening of a restored version of his 1972 Cannes Palme d’Or-winning Il caso Mattei (The Mattei Affair), and the Lido arrival of director Paul Thomas Anderson and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix a day ahead of the world premiere of their much-heralded religion myth drama The Master.
Lee was presented with his own career honor ahead of the Bad 25 premiere, when he was given the festival’s Glory to the Filmmaker award, handed out each year in Venice to an industry figure who brought “great innovation to contemporary cinema.” It is the sixth year that the prize has been given out in Venice; recent recipients include Al Pacino, Mani Ratnam and Sylvester Stallone.
This is Lee’s ninth official visit to the Venice festival — a rare familiar face in a festival that artistic director Alberto Barbera said would feature “new faces” compared with previous editions. Lee’s comments upon being awarded the prize included praising the Italian public, which he thanked for “supporting his films, going all the way back to 1986” — when She’s Gotta Have It had a successful Italian run. The remark sparked an enthusiastic response from the packed Sala Grande crowd.
Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop who died in 2009 at age 50, created a buzz on the Lido even before the screening, with the festival’s loudspeakers belting out Jackson songs over the course of the afternoon and the premiere scheduled for the exact 25th anniversary of the album’s hyped release in 1987. Unusual for a documentary, the project already has been sold: ABC will air the 126-minute film around Thanksgiving in the U.S.
Some of the festival’s biggest names are set to arrive during the weekend. In addition to Anderson’s The Master on Saturday, Terrence Malick will premiere his latest, To the Wonder, on Sunday. It’s the first trip to the venerable Venice festival for both Anderson and Malick.
The 69th Venice Film Festival, which started Wednesday, runs through Sept. 8.
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