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Sean Lennon of the US duo ‘The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger’ performs on stage during the Rock-en-Seine music festival on Aug 23. (AFP)
College program success adds fuel to its sophomore year Superheroes, war tales at Venice

ROME, Aug 24, (Agencies): Hollywood greats Al Pacino, Ethan Hawke and Jennifer Aniston are set to dazzle this year’s Venice film festival, which opens Wednesday with tales of war and the economic crisis offset by beach parties and gondola jaunts. Michael Keaton, of “Beetlejuice” and “Batman” fame, will likely be the first A-lister to zip by water taxi across the lagoon to present Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Birdman or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.” In the first of 20 flicks vying for the coveted Golden Lion prize, Keaton stars as a washed-up actor, once famous for playing a superhero, who is now struggling to put on a Broadway play in a bid to regain his former glory.

French film composer Alexandre Desplat—whose dozens of works include the scores for “The King’s Speech” and “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”—will head up the main jury at the 71st edition of the world’s oldest film festival, which runs until Sept 6. Many of the 55 films screening—54 of which are world premiers—reflect “a moment in which the spectre of war is rising dramatically again,” festival director Alberto Barbera said in Rome last month as he unveiled the line-up.

Among them is “Good Kill” by New Zealand director Andrew Niccol—who wrote “The Truman Show” —in which Hawke stars as a drone operator in Afghanistan, as well as David Oelhoffen’s “Loin des hommes”, in which “Lord of the Rings” star Viggo Mortensen plays a teacher in the Algerian war. The five American films in competition include Al Pacino as an ex-con turned locksmith in David Gordon Green’s “Manglehorn”, and Ramin Bahrani’s drama “99 Homes” about a father trying to recover his house after an eviction.
France will make a strong showing with four movies running for top prize, including Xavier Beauvois’s “La Rancon de la gloire,” based on a true story about two men who plot to steal Charlie Chaplain’s coffin in Switzerland. For Italy, Francesco Munzi’s “Anime Nere” explores the Calabrian-based mafia—cocaine traffickers with a global reach—while Saverio Costanzo’s Brooklyn-based “Hungry Hearts” tackles extreme eating disorders. There is buzz from critics already over the only first feature competing for the Lion, the Turkish “Sivas”, by Kann Mujdeci, about a young boy who befriends a stray dog he saves. Joshua Oppenheimer fans will be looking forward to “The Look of Silence”—in which Indonesian genocide survivors confront the killers of their brother—the only documentary in competition and the follow-up to his acclaimed 2012 “The Act of Killing.”
From Asia, Japan’s Shinya Tsukamoto will unveil “Fires on the Plane,” a jungle-based horror set at the end of World War II, while China’s Xiaoshaui Wang is set to unnerve with a tale of stalking in “Red Amnesia.” Roy Andersson’s Swedish comedy “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” about two world-weary men on a sales trip may provide light relief, but German-Turkish director Fatih Akin’s “The Cut” takes us back to the theme of genocide, following an Armenian survivor as he searches for his daughters. Out of competition slots have gone to US director Peter Bogdanovich’s “She’s Funny That Way”, a comedy starring Owen Wilson and Aniston, as well as American Lisa Cholodenko’s four-part HBO series “Olive Kitteridge,” starring Bill Murray. Other hotly-awaited flicks include Barry Levinson’s “The Humbling,” which stars Pacino as a suicidal actor who has an affair with a much younger lesbian, as well as “The Sound and the Fury” by American heartthrob James Franco, who will be in Venice to pick up an innovation in cinema award. 
LOS ANGELES: Venice, until recently the only major festival lacking parallel activities to showing films, looks poised to lead the way in the festival lab field with its Biennale College initiative, which shepherds microbudget movies from development through distribution in a first for a fest. The brainchild of Alberto Barbera and Torino Film Lab topper Savina Neirotti — who now also heads the Venice initiative — this pilot project, launched in 2012, has already borne fruit, such as US helmer Tim Sutton’s “Memphis.”
Made for Ä150,000 ($200,000) Sutton’s character study of a moody Memphis musician seeking a deeper spiritual meaning bowed last year at Venice, has since gone to Sundance and Karlovy Vary and sold to some 30 countries, including Kino Lorber for the US theatrical distribution. Another work within the trio of titles spawned by Biennale College’s first edition is Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit’s “Mary Is Happy, Mary Is Happy,” based on 410 consecutive tweets from a poster called @marylony. That pic went to Busan and was a commercial success in Thailand, where lead Patcha Poonpiriya, in her first film role, scooped the actress prize at the country’s national film awards. “It’s gone beyond my wildest expectations,” Barbera says.
Instead of backing just one aspect of the filmmaking process — as is the case with Sundance, Cannes and Rotterdam — the Biennale College mentors work closely with director-producer teams on their projects from initial stages, offering experts, such as former Arte France topper Michel Reilhac, to coach them on script development and production plans during 10-day sessions. The idea is to mentor, finance and launch up to three selected projects through conception to development, production, direction, marketing, audience engagement and distribution. The micro-financing ($200,000 for each project) comes courtesy of Gucci. “You can’t limit the function of a festival to being a showcase for completed films. So it’s increasingly important that Venice develops an aspect connected to the market with an attention towards the needs of the market, especially the needs of young filmmakers,” Barbera says.
Lido auds this year will be able to catch the next Biennale College batch: Italian coming-of-age comedy
“Short Skin,” about a teen with a foreskin issue, a first feature by Duccio Chiarini that Barbera calls “very fresh”; “Blood Cells” a debut by Brit helming duo Joseph Bull and Luke Seomore, about a man who becomes homeless due to the mad cow disease crisis that forced UK farms to shut down; and “H” a second work by US-based directorial duo Rania Attieh and Daniel Garcia, which consists of three intersecting tales set in an American suburb with an apocalyptic event as the backdrop.

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