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'The Terminal' launches 61st Venice Film Festival

September 02, 2004|From Reuters

VENICE, Italy — Hollywood high-fliers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg launched Wednesday what is being hailed as Venice's most ambitious film festival in years, but their romantic comedy "The Terminal" failed to take it to new heights.

More than 70 feature films, many of them world premieres, will screen at the 61st edition of the world's oldest cinema competition, which runs until Sept. 11 -- coincidentally a date that is central to many of its more controversial films.

A string of hot stars and internationally acclaimed directors will hit the red carpet and a record number of paparazzi have flown in for the occasion.

But "The Terminal," starring Hanks as a traveler from an imaginary Eastern European country who gets stranded in New York's JFK airport for nine months, opened the festival on a slightly flat note.

A preview screening for the press received only a scattering of applause, with critics praising Hanks' performance but saying they would have preferred something fresher.

"Nobody would deny Hanks and Spielberg are two covet- ed names at any festival, but frankly the film has been out for a couple of months and hasn't done very well," a British critic said.

Organizers, trying to reinvent the Venice Film Festival as a star-studded event, said the Oscar-winning duo were a perfect choice.

"We needed an opening film which would feel like an opening film," said Marco Muller, the new director of the festival. "It's a film which tackles a lot of serious issues but it's also a very successful comedy."

He said the deluge of Hollywood blockbusters wouldn't drown out the festival's independent and art-house roots.

"I wanted a festival of quality films for mass audiences," Muller said. "But if the Venice Film Festival is really going to be useful it has to create the conditions so that more fragile films will finally find a distributor and an audience."

The festival will assume a more international air today when some of the 21 films competing for the Golden Lion top prize start screening.

The attacks against the U.S. will take center stage later in the week with Wim Wenders' "Land of Plenty," about the post-Sept. 11 United States.

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