Venice's once and future kings?

Mueller, Croff stir as much Lido buzz as film titles

As dark rain clouds hover over the final days of the Venice Film Festival, speculation is building over who will be running the show when next year's 65th edition rolls around.

With the mandates of artistic director Marco Mueller and Venice Biennale president Davide Croff set to expire, the future of the festival's leadership has been a regular topic of discussion since the event kicked off Aug. 29. But the volume of the buzz has grown in recent days, as strong reviews for the festival's lineup and general organization have continued to roll in despite inclement weather that has forced some minor changes in plans.

Mueller declined to discuss whether he would want to sign on for a second term when the current one expires, but the Italian media has speculated that Mueller might stay on long enough to inaugurate the new Pallazo del Cinema set to open in 2011, long a pet project.

An informal poll of moviegoers indicates broad support for Mueller to stay on the job. Mueller topped more than two dozen vote-getters in a vote conducted this week, with Film-Italia head Irene Bignardi — frequently mentioned for the job — trailing along with such theoretical candidates as RomaCinemaFest co-director Giorgio Gossetti, Turin Film Festival director Nanni Moretti and Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni also mentioned.

Croff's plans also are in question. Traditionally, the head of the Biennale — which includes exhibitions on art, architecture, dance, music and theater — has been a political appointment. Thus, observers have speculated that the Silvio Berlusconi appointee could be replaced by one from new Prime Minister Romano Prodi. But Croff said politics shouldn't enter into the equation.

"It's not a political job, and I'm not a political figure," he said in an interview earlier in the week. "Whether I continue or not in this job is something that should be decided based on the merits of my experience and that of other candidates."

Meanwhile, Peter Greenaway's "Nightwatching," a highly visual examination of Rembrandt, and "Mad Detective," the quirky thriller from Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai that premiered here Wednesday, are both attracting favorable attention.

Greenaway's drama is being mentioned by some as a possible candidate for Venice's Golden Lion, while "Mad Detective" has sparked speculation about a possible English-language remake in Hollywood — a possibility both directors brushed aside during a press briefing.

"No comment," To said, in English, to which Wai added, in Cantonese, "We're very happy making films in Hong Kong."

Jonathan Demme's "The Man From Plains" — a documentary about former U.S. President Jimmy Carter — screened Thursday and attracted attention for its criticism of the U.S. policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

And "La Zona" (The Zone) from Rodrigo Pla, a drama set in Mexico, was the first award winner of the Venice event, taking home the City of Rome prize for cultural intelligence. All feature-length films were eligible for the award. "La Zona" screened in the Venice Days sidebar for up-and-coming directors.