With its romantic Italian trappings, Venice lends itself to a certain kind of film festival: one with a lot of A-list talent and showy movies. This year’s event, which kicks off Wednesday, is no exception, with George Clooney, Madonna, Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow and Matt Damon expected to be on hand to premiere their films.
Many of the movies headed to Venice — including Clooney’s American presidential campaign drama “Ides of March,” which opens the fest, and Madonna’s Wallis Simpson drama “W.E.” — will also screen at the much larger Toronto International Film Festival, which begins Sept. 8. There’s also bound to be some overlap between Venice’s lineup and the programming at the Telluride Film Festival, which starts Friday, though the organizers of the Colorado event keep their titles under wraps until the very last minute.
A few high-profile pictures, though, will debut in Venice and then keep North American filmgoers, even festival audiences, waiting for a bit. Those films include Roman Polanski’s “Carnage,” an adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Broadway play “God of Carnage”; Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of John le Carre’s “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (with Gary Oldman as super spy George Smiley); and Al Pacino’s “Wilde Salome,” about Pacino’s obsession with Oscar Wilde and his controversial play “Salome.” Check out our photo gallery of high profile Venice titles here.
The Venice festival’s top honor, the Golden Lion, isn’t seen as a particularly good indicator of eventual attention from Oscar voters. Last year, Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” walked away with the award, while in 2009 the prize went to Samuel Maoz’s war drama “Lebanon”; neither landed Academy Award nominations. This year, Darren Aronofsky, director of last year’s Oscar best picture nominee “Black Swan,” will head up the Venice jury.
The Venice fest, which is in its 68th year, will feature 22 films in its international competition. Besides “Tinker, Tailor,” “Ides” and David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” the field includes William Friedkin’s “Killer Joe” (a drama starring Emile Hirsch and Matthew McConaughey); Todd Solondz’s “Dark Horse,” starring Mia Farrow; and “Texas Killing Fields,” the directorial debut of Michael Mann’s daughter Ami Canaan Mann.
Sony Pictures Classics is releasing “Carnage,” and co-head Michael Barker says he sees the Italian festival as particularly well suited to the film, which stars Jodie Foster, Christoph Waltz, John C. Reilly and Winslet.
“Venice is a perfect launching pad for ‘Carnage,’ ” he said. “The play is a huge hit all over the world and is about to open in Europe in the fall.”
After Venice, “Carnage” will play as the opening-night picture at the New York Film Festival, which starts Sept. 30. Because the play is set in New York, taking the film there next was a natural choice. But there was one hiccup — “Carnage” had to pull out of the Toronto festival because the New York fest won’t select a film for opening night that has played at any other North American festival.
Barker is pursuing a Venice-Toronto strategy with “A Dangerous Method,” a film that examines the friendship between renowned psychotherapists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. The film is slated for a general U.S. release at Thanksgiving, and he hopes the festivals will build buzz ahead of the crowded holiday season.
“To launch a film in Venice, you’re launching it to Europe. To launch in Toronto, you’re launching it to North America. The two together are a perfect combination,” Barker says. “And ‘A Dangerous Method’ is a very European story, but it’s also perfect for Toronto because it could be David Cronenberg’s most accessible film.”
Venice has also become a launching pad for high-profile studio films, such as this year’s “Ides,” from Sony Pictures, and Warner Bros.’ drama “Contagion,” from festival veteran Steven Soderbergh, which opens in U.S. theaters Sept. 9. Not only does the film feature a high-profile international cast including Damon, Winslet, Paltrow and Marion Cotillard, but its storyline — it’s about the spread of a killer virus around the world — has relevance to the international audience present at the festival.
Warner Bros. has used Venice to focus critical attention on films with overt commercial appeal, such as last year’s Ben Affleck heist drama “The Town.”
“I think the roles of festivals have changed in the last few years. It’s always been much more important for a smaller film looking for distribution, or one that doesn’t have the power of the studio behind it, to be at a festival. And we could accomplish a lot of what we do without them,” said Sue Kroll, Warner Bros. Pictures’ president of worldwide marketing.
“But I think it’s a wonderful place for us to be, especially for a movie like this: With the timing of the release, the international cast and this filmmaker, it helps us frame the movie and say to the press and critical audience that there is more” to “Contagion” than just its commercial appeal.
-- Nicole Sperling
Photos: "The Ides of March" (top) and "Carnage" (lower). Credit: Sony Pictures and Sony Pictures Classics