Venice goes crazy for 'Videocracy'

Silvio Berlusconi documentary screened twice Thursday

VENICE -- The Lido was abuzz Thursday about "Videocracy," a doc that takes a critical look at Italian media tycoon-turned-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and the powerful influence television has over Italian culture.

The film, which had its Italian premiere Thursday at the Venice Film Festival and also will play at Toronto, screened in two packed theaters. It temporarily overshadowed the high-wattage fest, which got under way a day earlier.

The Italian- and Swedish-made film, whose trailer was banned by both Berlusconi's Mediaset and by state broadcaster RAI, was talked about in the Italian press for days before its premiere. It was a rare case of a film screening in two Venice sidebars at once: Venice Days and Critics' Week.

Director Erik Gandini, an Italian who lives in Sweden, where "Videocracy" had its world premiere last month, said it was the kind of story that had to be told on the big screen.

"It is about the power of images on the screen, and it had to be told using a similar medium," he told the crowd in an impromptu Q&A session after the first screening Thursday.

Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, in town to promote "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans," were the most high-profile visitors to the festival so far. Their appearance on the red carpet drew crowds sometimes three people thick. The fest's star power will increase in the coming days with the expected appearances of George Clooney, Matt Damon and Ewan McGregor.

Oscar-winning director Ang Lee, who has taken home Venice's top prize twice, adds his own luster to Venice's jury, which he heads this year for the first time.

On Thursday, Lee called Venice "the greatest film festival in the world" and praised the quality of the films screening on the Lido.

The first full day of the fest also saw the launch of its main sidebars. The competition got started a day earlier with the world premiere of Giuseppe Tornatore's Sicilian epic "Baaria."

The 66th edition of the Venice fest runs through Sept. 12.