• Festivals

Venice Sidebar: Shaky Start for Brand New Theater (aka the Hole of Shame Strikes Again)

For the last several years the Venice Film  Festival grounds, anchored by the Casino and the Palazzo del Cinema, also included a not-so-elegant  feature. We are talking about the football-field size hole in the ground that stood as a sad reminder of the thwarted new Cinema Palace. Plans for the addition, which was to serve as future festival headquarters and rival the Cannes Palais and Toronto Lightbox, had been approved and work begun, but the digging for the foundations had barely started when funding problems began, followed by lawsuits and countersuits between overlapping administrations and disgruntled contractors, bringing the worksite to a screeching halt. All in all, an Olympic sized black eye, only partially hidden by the tall fence which had been placed around it. Instead of a badge of honor, an embarrassing reminder of the infamous inefficiencies and vagaries of Italian bureaucracy and cultural politics, derisively nicknamed the “hole of shame” by locals and journalists who returned to find the site unchanged year after year.

It was therefore with understandable satisfaction that Biennale president Paolo Baratta and Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro announced that for this year’s edition the stalemate had finally been broken: the hole had been filled, and the grounds restored with lawns and freshly painted maritime pines. In place of the gaping wound now stands a shiny new screening room, the Sala Giardino, in the shape of a glistening red cube, built with state of the art synthetic cladding and seating 446, equipped with the latest digital projection and Dolby sound technology. A futuristic new venue for press and public screenings that looks like it might have been the product of the current Architecture Biennale exhibit and has vastly improved the look and functionality of the Festival plaza.

So it was with great anticipation that about 500 journos stood in line Wednesday for the inaugural screening in the “red cube”. The 2 o’clock showing of Kim Ki Duk’s The Net was the Sala Giardino’s maiden voyage of sorts and as someone surely said as the Titanic left the dock at Southampton…”what could possibly go wrong..?”.  As it turned out, the assembled press did not have to wait long to find out.

With  audience I  place and a handful of minutes left before screening time, a sinister sound was heard as a whole center row precariously lurched forward startling the sitting spectators to their feet. As murmurs ran through the crowd crews of technicians rushed into the auditorium brandishing power tools and attempted to screw the rogue seats back into the floor between the audience’s feet. As they worked and a flurry of cell phones flashed pictures, other rows of connected seats began to give way as drilling sounds multiplied and general chaos ensued. A Festival spokesperson took to the stage and pleaded for “understanding” and “restraint on social media” only succeeding in further straining the media’s incredulity. In the end the seats were (mostly) secured and the show started about a half-hour late (albeit with several people sitting in the aisles). The “curse of the hole” apparently not quite  exorcised yet.