Controversy follows Tarantino at Venice fest

Italian press wary he showed favoritism as jury president

ROME -- The Venice Film Festival became shrouded in controversy Sunday after the Italian press revealed that some of the festival's biggest prizes went to filmmakers with close personal ties to auteur and jury president Quentin Tarantino.

Until then, the 11-day festival, which concluded Saturday, had been lauded for the strong collection of films in its lineup.

Sofia Coppola, Tarantino's former girlfriend, won the festival's main prize, the Golden Lion, for her drama "Somewhere," which explores the relationship between a popular actor and his 11-year-old daughter.

Additionally, "Balada triste de trompeta" ("A Sad Trumpet Ballad") from long-time Tarantino friend Alex de la Iglesia won two prizes, including the Silver Lion for best director. Monte Hellman, Tarantino's mentor, won a special career prize created by the jury. Hellman's film "Road to Nowhere" screened in competition on the Lido.

Asian films, meanwhile, normally made a strong showing in Venice but earned no major hardware Saturday. The unusually large number of Italian productions also failed to earn any major awards.

"The presidency of Quentin Tarantino runs the risk of turning into the most obvious conflict of interest possible if you remember that 'Somewhere' and 'Road to Nowhere' were charming and interesting in their own ways, but nothing more than that," wrote Paolo Mereghetti, chief film critic for Correre della Sera, Italy's largest newspaper.

As of late Sunday, the festival had no comment on the accusations of favoritism, but Tarantino denied anything inappropriate, noting that the vote for Coppola's "Somewhere" was unanimous even though the 39-year-old director had no ties to other jury members, and that de la Iglesia's "Balada triste de trompeta" -- despite being panned by most critics in Venice -– was simply the best directorial effort among the films he saw.

Regarding Hellman, Tarantino said the 78-year-old director himself taught Tarantino a lesson about favoritism nearly 20 years ago.

"I remember talking to him [Hellman] in 1992 at the Sundance Film Festival, when I was there with my film 'Reservoir Dogs'," Tarantino said. "I actually had a friend on the jury and he told me that a friend on the jury is your worst enemy as they would be too embarrassed to give you a prize. I wasn't going to let anything like that effect me."

The 67th edition of the storied festival ran from Sept. 1 until Saturday.