Mueller remains as head of Venice fest


ROME -- Marco Mueller will stay on the job 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, Italy's Ministry of Culture said Friday.

Croff's replacement will be 68-year-old Paolo Baratta, a banker, former lawmaker and minister, and the man Croff replaced in 2002.

But the big news for film industry is that Mueller will be retained, a rare event for a festival that has seen six artistic directors over the previous 19 years. Though Baratta must formally reappoint Mueller, the move is considered automatic.

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

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

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

Some 20 million euro ($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 -- in charge and eager to hand the position back to the well-regarded Baratta.