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Venice film fest means business, not just art - marketing chief

By Michael Roddy

VENICE (Reuters) - Venice has a reputation for luxury and its film festival for emphasizing art over commercialism, so its marketing chief Pascal Diot has his work cut out to prove Venice means business.

The stars, film directors and producers arriving at the Lido island festival venue by luxury motor launch or Maserati tend to look and act like they are on holiday as they wave at fans, sign autographs and waltz up the red carpet.

"The thing about Venice is to be in competition and artistically it's very prestigious but I don't know that this is the capital of all transactions for movies," Xavier Dolan, director of the Canadian-French film "Tom a la Ferme" ("Tom at the Farm"), told Reuters on Tuesday.

For years Venice did not even attempt to serve as a venue for film deals, leaving that to Cannes and Berlin in Europe and the Toronto festival that opens this week.

That changed last year with the opening of the Venice Film Market, an initiative of the film festival's artistic director, Alberto Barbera.

"The market is growing here," Barbera told Reuters.

"I'm not saying that we fulfilled all the goals or the aims we have for the market. I'm saying that little by little the market will be a very important appointment in the calendar of the international markets."

The only major deal to be announced publicly from Venice so far, with the festival heading to a Saturday awards ceremony, is Harvey Weinstein's purchase of U.S. rights to Australian director John Curran's "Tracks" based on its premiere last week.

The film is based on a true story and stars Australian actress Mia Wasikowska as a woman on a voyage of self-discovery across the Australian desert.

Diot said 15 to 20 such deals had been made for films shown either in competition or in the festival's other main screening forum, Orrizonti, but he was not at liberty to give details.

Deals struck in Venice and at the Toronto festival were mostly announced at the close of the Toronto event, he added.

"Toronto is just behind us so what they are doing is to announce usually as a bunch at the end of Toronto all the numbers of films they have sold in Venice and Toronto so it's a bigger splash and everyone is happier," Diot said.

Major sales and distribution companies represented in Venice included HanWay, Match Factory, Elle Driver, Film Nation and Film Boutique, Diot said, adding that he wanted Venice to be different from other film markets.

"It doesn't make sense to have hundreds of (sales) booths and thousands of market screenings, it will never be the case," Diot said.

"What I have always wanted is for Venice to be a networking place, because the people are relaxed, they have the time, they don't have the meetings back to back so they have to the time to discuss and everything."

Diot said the festival provided a way for filmmakers from developing countries, who have scant chances of their films being seen, to have a crack at the market. The "Final Cut in Venice" workshop supports African films in post-production.

He said the festival earned "peanuts" from any deals struck, but hoped to increase the take through profit-sharing in future.

(Additional reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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