Arrivederci, Mueller?

Venice fest may be director's last

As he settles into the last year of his five-year mandate as artistic director of the Venice Film Festival, Marco Mueller said he is considering his future while relishing what he contends is the strongest lineup Venice has ever seen.

With a competition lineup that includes 22 world premieres — 21 titles were announced last week; the final one will be a surprise — and another five premieres in the Venice Masters series, Mueller said everything fell into place this year.

The lineup will be completed when a final film he is waiting to see will be ready for evaluation Aug. 20. Mueller hinted that it will be from Asia — the last three surprise films all hailed from the region — but wouldn't give any additional information. Another surprise film screening at midnight will be revealed today, Mueller said, because the studio behind it wanted to create a bigger buzz.

Even without the final two pieces of the puzzle, Mueller said the slate is impressive.

"This really is an extraordinary lineup. … Everything just seemed to fall into place," he said during an interview at Rome's Hotel Excelsior. "Even compared to last year (when all the films in competition were world premieres), this program shines."

The question many people are asking is whether this star-studded lineup — Venice's red carpet will overflow with top-shelf talent from around the world — will be Mueller's swan song in Venice.

"The board of the Venice Biennale will make a decision by the end of the year," he said. "And in the meantime, we still have to run the festival." But with further prodding, Mueller discussed what will have to happen for him to be interested in staying.

"Under the current circumstances, we have come as far as we can come," Mueller said. "But Venice can be much more than it is."

Mueller has spent much of the past five years lobbying for an expensive renovation for Venice's aging Palazzo del Cinema, a plan that seemed to take off earlier this year when the government agreed to provide the bulk of the funding for the €70 million ($96.6 million) project. But Mueller is taking a wait-and-see attitude toward the project.

"I'll be more sure of what will happen when I see the workmen starting to actually work on the project," he said.

But even if the Palazzo del Cinema is completed, Mueller said there is more to do.

"The Venice Lido needs more hotel space," he said. (The Lido has 3,000 beds available to the public.) "And we need to decide whether there will be a permanent festival in Venice or whether the festival will take place just 11 days a year."

According to Mueller, a permanent exhibit would involve funding for film projects in the developing world; new events and conferences at the refurbished Palazzo del Cinema; a project market for new films; and increased collaborations with the other parts of the Biennale, which highlights art, architecture, dance and theater in addition to film.

"I think the Venice Film Festival becomes much more interesting if Venice itself becomes a more fertile ground for the creative process," Mueller said.