Venice fest awash with complaints

Gripes have insiders questioning event's importance

Complete Venice coverage

VENICE -- The main story at the midway point of the 65th Venice Film Festival has become the grumbling about the festival itself.

Industry players say that business is off compared to previous years; gossip journalists are complaining about the relative lack of red carpet star power; critics bemoan the a lack of quality films in the lineup; and technical issues are making Internet access on the Lido either absurdly expensive or unreliable.

Those factors combined with Venice's always high price tag -- thanks to the weak dollar, a water taxi from the airport now costs more than $150, a plate of pasta runs north of $25 -- have left more than a few Venice veterans cursing under their breath.

"The conditions this year certainly make you wonder about how important having a big presence in Venice actually is," said one official from a U.S.-based studio, echoing comments from other foreign industry figures.

Some speculate that Venice's issues this year could prove good news for rival Toronto or even the upstart Rome Film Festival in the Italian capital. But Venice artistic director Marco Mueller brushes off most of the criticisms as unfounded.

"The writers' strike caused us some problems this year because a lot of films that would have come to Venice were not yet ready," Mueller said. "Add Frank Miller's 'The Spirit' and 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus' from Terry Gilliam (both of which would have been strong candidates for Venice if not for the threatened strike) and I don't think you'd be hearing a lot of these criticisms."

Still -- fairly or not -- the problems in Venice this year are sparking discussions about its place in the pantheon of top film festivals.

"Venice has always had infrastructure problems, limited space, high costs," Riccardo Tozzi, the former head of film industry association ANICA and the founder of Rome's Cattleya Studios said before the festival began. "Venice's strength has always been the lineup. An off year is felt more in Venice than in other festivals."
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