- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 3, 2009

VENICE — If there is one criterion for selection to the Venice Film Festival, it’s a film’s ability to captivate, the festival director says.

That means no fidgeting in the audience.

“I think I never laughed or cried as much as I did for this year’s selection,” says festival director Marco Mueller, who raised the curtain Wednesday on the 66th Venice festival, his sixth as director.

One of the chosen films is Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” his first Venice entry after winning the top prize twice in Cannes. By many measures, landing Mr. Moore’s film is a coup for Venice. It is one of 24 films, including a surprise film to be announced later in the week, in competition for the Golden Lion.

“I think Michael has had a terrific time in Cannes. He needed a change. And we needed a different Michael Moore film. This one is incredibly symphonic,” says Mr. Mueller, who has known Mr. Moore for 20 years and premiered 1999’s “The Awful Truth” at the Locarno International Film Festival when he was director there.

Much of Mr. Mueller’s approach to luring films to the Venice Lido is personal. He speaks seven languages fluently, including Chinese, which has long made him a bridge to the West for Asian filmmakers. He spends copious amounts of time viewing films, more than 2,000 a year, and making pitches for why Venice is the perfect launching pad for anything from Hollywood fare to art-house talent, despite lacking a formal film market.

This year, the Venice festival, which will screen about 80 films through Sept. 12, is a week later than usual, bumping up against the much-larger Toronto Film Festival, which will show more than 300 films from Sept. 10 to 19.

At least 20 films making their world premiere at Venice will travel on to Toronto, where most of the deal-making for the North American market is made.

“It is quite a luxury to be told by filmmakers and producers: ‘Never start a market in Venice, because it is the only place where we can meet people and see other people’s films,’ ” he said.

Deal-making in Venice happens in a much more informal way, Mr. Mueller says.

“When people meet, They may say, ‘I have this new idea for a film.’ Then all of a sudden, on the terrace of the Hotel des Bains, a deal memo is signed for the production of a brand-new film,” he says.

Mr. Mueller, 56, is convinced that a festival showing can change the trajectory of a film’s success and that Venice is high-profile enough to provide the ideal platform.

“I really try to prove we can prolong the life of a film - even though it may be just in the realm of a very long festival circulation - because of the very high visibility we create,” he says.

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