Marco Mueller, the Artistic Director of the Venice Film Festival, will step down after an eight-year term. No other Artistic Director has served this long in the history of the world’s oldest Film Festival.
Alberto Barbera is the new Artistic Director. He was born in 1950 and began his career in cinema as a movie critic. He led Venice from 1998 to 2002, and has been the Director of the National Cinema Museum since 2004.
All said and done, Mueller’s contribution to Venice has been amazing and enormous. He took charge of a Festival that was tottering, and way behind its main competitor, Cannes. Mueller reshaped the Festival on the Lido with a touch of sincerity, patience and foresight. He honed down the number of films, and created a far more focussed and gripping competition (with surprise inclusions), giving a wider platform for Hollywood, European cinema, experimental fare and emerging talent. Gurvinder Singh’s Anhey Ghorhey Da Daan, which screened at Venice this September, is a case in point. His first work and the first ever Punjabi picture on the Lido.
Mueller’s tenure has not been an easy one though, and perhaps one of his biggest disappointments must have been the $ 135-million plan for a new Palazzo del Cinema that had to be scrapped when asbestos was found where the foundation was to be laid. This year, I saw a huge and ugly crater-like hole bang outside the existing Palazzo that pleased none. But Mueller himself could not be held responsible for this.
Where he perhaps erred was the possibility of a market, an issue that has been worrying all those who feel that a festival must double up as venue for buying and selling movies. There have been others who feel that Venice must remain free from such commerce, concentrating on art alone. Probably an important reason why Cannes has been able to climb higher than Venice is the former's throbbing and thriving market that has grown enormously in the past 10 years.
But there is another factor that has helped Cannes remain the world’s premier Festival. Its directors have stayed in office for a long, long time. President Gilles Jacob has been at the helm of the Festival for three decades, and the Director, Thierry Fremaux, came on board in 2000. In fact, Fremaux has been recently granted additional powers over staffing and budget.
In May, at the Festival, he said this was the first time he could declare that the event was closest to his heart, affirming that the transition from 81-year-old Jacob to 50-year-old Fremaux was extremely smooth and cordial.
On the other hand, Venice has had as many Directors as there have been Governments in Italy, and it seems such a pity that Mueller has been asked to go, particularly at a time when the Festival is beginning to rise and shine.
The Venice Film Festival’s 69th edition runs from August 29 to September 8, 2012.