Friday, September 20, 2013

Charity Buzz for Drawing Dreams - Venice Prizes

Bauers Hotel Terrace
(Venice, Italy) Drawing Dreams Foundation is my favorite non-profit organization. It brings smiles and creativity to kids who are hospitalized. Here is what they're about:

Bug by Isabeau, age 8, Chicago, Illinois
"Drawing Dreams is a three-year old Berkeley, California-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that donates art supplies to hospitalized children through children's hospitals' Artists-in-Residence and Child Life programs.

Talented children and more than 1400 professional artists from 72 countries support Drawing Dreams. You can see their work in website's Children-Helping-Children and Artists-Helping-Children galleries.

Our goal is to be able to maintain a sustainable supply line to the following 37 children's hospitals and other children's hospitals across the country, and to inspire artists everywhere to donate their talent and time at local children's hospitals."

Click for more information

Now, with the miracle of globalization, you can support this charity in Berkeley, California plus score a great deal in Venice, Italy. Thanks to the generosity of Francesca Bortolotto Possati; CEO of the Bauers, and Raffaele Alajmo of the renown Alajmo restaurateur family, yesterday Charity Buzz went live with an online auction featuring a two-night stay at one of the Bauers properties here in Venice, plus lunch at the Quadri Restaurant in Piazza San Marco.

The donations are worth a total of $2,900. Right now the opening bid is at $500.

[UPDATE: SEPTEMBER 26, 2013 - Bid at $1,150. Thank you! Keep it going!]

Ristorante Quadri

Enjoy a two-night stay in a double room with a daily breakfast buffet at either The Bauers Hotel, the Bauers Il Palazzo, or the Bauers Palladio Hotel & Spa in Venice, Italy. This also includes lunch for two (sans alcohol) at The Quadri Restaurant featuring the restaurant's Laguna tasting menus. 

Not only will your bid benefit Drawing Dreams Foundation, you will have the opportunity to patronize two of the most esteemed venues that Venice has to offer. It's a great way to raise money for charity and enjoy yourself at the same time.

The auction closes on October 8, 2013. 


Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Venice Insider Guide for CNN Travel - The Best of Venice

Piazza San Marco with the Basilica by Canaletto (1730)

(Venice, Italy) The painting, Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, which Canaletto composed nearly 300 years ago was how I wanted to illustrate the opening of "The Best of Venice" that I wrote for CNN Travel just before the film festival, with the caption reading "Only the clothing has changed." It was not accepted. So then I took this photo:

Really! Only the clothing has changed!
Unfortunately, the Basilica is presently under scaffolding, and that photo was not used, either.

Now, of course, it is impossible to write the Best of Venice in 2,000 words, which is what the assignment was (I delivered more than 4,000 -- sorry to the editor!:) In addition, there was a format that needed to be followed; for example, two luxury hotels, two medium hotels, and a budget hotel that was not a hostel.

Years ago, my job writing for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, included finding the "Best" of Venice. Back then, I found several businesses that were exceptional. A few of those businesses remain exceptional to this day, and I included those in the CNN piece, along with some newcomers.

Since museums are the main attraction here in Venice, and there are so many, I simplified things by suggesting that you take the Vaporetto dell'Arte, the Art Boat, and follow that itinerary. In fact, I learned something new: if you buy a normal time-limited vaporetto (water bus) ticket from 12 hours to a week, and pay €10 more at the time you purchase your ticket, you can ride on the Art Vaporetto for as long as your ticket lasts. In other words, if you pay €35 for a 72-hour travelcard, for €10 more, you can ride the Vaporetto dell'Arte the entire three days. The Vaporetto dell'Arte is so much more pleasant than the regular vaporetto, it is worth the €10 just to ride it; plus you can get a bit of history of the Grand Canal with the audio tour. [UPDATE: UNFORTUNATELY, THE VAPORETTO DELL'ARTE IS NO LONGER RUNNING]

Before I even knew the article was up, there was a negative comment by someone named Vernon McClure, supported by eight "likes," which I found peculiar:

"Nice article but I have to disagree that these and (sic) not the best of Venice. Most things listed are what is dragging the city down. Overpriced hotels and bars, or trendy shops and styles is not what Venice is about. No disrespect intended."

That was a puzzling comment. Most shops I had listed were anything but "trendy;" as I said, they were veritable Venetian institutions that had been around for years. The newer arrivals -- the Aman Canal Grande Venice, the Quadri (an ancient restaurant under new ownership -- the Alajmo family of three-star Michelin fame), and Louis Vuitton Venezia are pricey, but at every one of them I found Venetian employees. In fact, there was a deliberate effort on the part of the new businesses to reach out to Venetians and become a welcome part of the community. And all the smaller shops, bars and restaurants I listed are either owned by Venetians, employ Venetians, or both.

I felt very strongly that what I listed was lifting Venice up, not "dragging the city down," and was curious to learn who this "Vernon McClure" person was. What I discovered was no surprise:

"Arriving in Italy over 20 years ago as an US Army Airborne Ranger, Vernon settled in the Veneto after retiring from active duty, where he headed up Recreational Programming in Europe for the US Department of Defense while earning degrees in History and Italian Studies. While at the DOD, Vernon earned over 20 certifications, including snowboard and ski instructor, NOLS risk management, SCUBA, American Mountain Guide, Wilderness First Responder and US Army Survival School."

Sigh. It is not the first time I have had to deal with the United States Department of Defense. In fact, on September 11, 2001, I was on the United States military base in Vicenza, brought there by Iris and Cyril Ward of the DoD to make arrangements to be the visiting author for their new library.

Back then, I had no idea whatsoever what "DoD" stood for. That is how dumb I was.

In any event, Vernon McClure, who now apparently does bike tours and lives in the Vicenza area (where the US military base is located) and I seem to have a difference of opinion as to what is good for Venice. 

Let's take the first "overpriced" hotel I wrote about, the Aman Canal Grande Venice, which just opened. It would be a seven star hotel if such a thing existed in Italy, and rooms start at €1,000 a night. I wandered over there without knowing a soul because I was curious. I was warmly greeted. Most of the employees were Venetians or from the Veneto. I was unable to see an "ordinary" suite because the hotel was fully booked, but did get to see the Tiepolo. 

While I was waiting to be shown around, an American couple arrived who said they wanted to go first to Piazza San Marco and then to La Biennale art festival. The concierge asked, "Shall I call a boat taxi?" The man replied, "No, we'd like to go by gondola." I thought, how romantic is THAT? I fell in love with the Aman Canal Grande, which was more like a home -- what it actually is -- than a hotel. It is one-of-a-kind, elegant and civilized, and, if you can afford it, well worth the price.

In my opinion, that Aman opened a fabulous hotel close to the Rialto Bridge has immediately improved the area. It allows a well-respected Venetian family to remain in their palazzo with dignity and humor; it provides local jobs and it supports the local economy -- not to mention that an ancient palazzo has been spectacularly restored. Of course, it might not be exactly what the United States military and their friends had planned for the Rialto area, but splattering the zone with Coca Cola ads and trying to force out the fish market in the heart of Venice in order to expand the Las Vegas-type cruise ship industry, to me, is what is dragging the city down.

No disrespect intended.

Here is the article. Please feel free to share.

Insider Guide: Best of Venice

On any given day, there are as many tourists in the Floating City as there are locals. With this guide, you can enjoy Venice as both

 Venetian for gridlock.

In its heyday, the Queen of the Adriatic was the world capital of publishing, banking, jewelry and trade.

Venetians established the first bank at Rialto in 1157, the first casino in 1638 and the first film festival in 1932.

These days, the local population has dwindled to less than 60,000, while the number of tourists has soared to more than 20 million a year.

But in best of Venice tradition, the culture and luxury markets are thriving.

In addition to art and cinema, La Biennale includes dance, theater and music, and it's become the most important architecture festival in the world.

You'll get lost in Venice. It's part of the experience.

Don’t worry; the best of Venice is always right in front of you.


Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, September 8, 2013

70th Venice Film Festival Wrap-up

Maserati at the Venice Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) SACRO GRA (Italy, France), a documentary by Gianfranco Rosi, won the Golden Lion for Best Film last night at the 70th Venice International Film Festival. It's been 15 years since an Italian film won the top prize, and the first time ever for a documentary.

Bernardo Bertolucci, the President of the jury, quipped that there had been some discussion about whether to give the Volpi Cup for Best Actor to Donald Rumsfeld for his performance in the documentary THE UNKNOWN KNOWN. Instead, that prize went to Themis Panou for MISS VIOLENCE, a Greek film, which also won the Silver Lion for Best Director for Alexandros Avranas. It was unusual for a film to win more than one prize -- in fact, everyone is always arguing about it. But last year THE MASTER (USA) won the Silver for Paul Thomas Anderson and Best Actor(s) for Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman, so, perhaps, it is a new trend.

I hadn't seen either winning film, so I went to the screenings after the awards. SACRO GRA is about the real life characters that live around Rome's Ring Road highway. I would have given it three stars, not the top prize. MISS VIOLENCE starts with a girl committing suicide by jumping off the balcony on her 11th birthday, and then slowly peels away the layers of dysfunction in which the other members of family have wrapped themselves. It was skillfully insidious, and well deserved the Silver Lion. Difficult, but necessary, to watch.



Maserati was the main sponsor of the festival this year, and it was a thrill to see all the Quattroporte (Four Door) luxury sedans lined up outside the Excelsior Hotel, ready to whisk the celebrities off to the Red Carpet. The engines sounded like lions purring. It's been a while since a car turned me on, but this one has got it all: style, class, elegance, beauty and it's sexy.

"Maserati begins its relationship with the 70th Venice Film Festival as main sponsor of the event, cementing the relationship between the prestigious film festival and the Fiat Group." 

Excelsior Hotel Terrace 1932

The Venice Film Festival is the oldest film festival on the planet, created by Count Giuseppi Volpi in 1932. In the archives area are all sorts of nifty news clips such as Winston Churchill taking a dip in the sea, Marilyn Monroe arriving on the Lido, George Cukor and other classics. This year, the press got to see some vintage clips before the screenings, much to everyone's delight.


Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) caused a pedestrian traffic girl-jam when he showed up at Coin Department Store in Venice to promote Kill Your Darlings, a movie about Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation.

The Guardian: "Kill Your Darlings... is the real deal, a genuine attempt to source the beginning of America's first true literary counterculture of the 20th century."


****GRAVITY by Alfonso Cuaron (USA) - There is nothing like starting off a film festival with a good old fashioned Hollywood blockbuster set in outer space. 

***WOLKFSKINDER (WOLF CHILDREN) by Rick Ostermann (Germany) Proving that no one group of people have a monopoly on suffering, after World War II had ended, Russian soldiers hunted down and murdered German children orphaned by the war just because they were German. A little-known piece of history finally gets explored. (Part of Orrizzonti competition.)

***1/2 JOE by David Gordon Green (USA) - Prediction: Nicholas Cage will be nominated for an Academy Award for his performance. Last night, Tye Sheridan did win the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress. The two of them had great chemistry.

From the Hollywood Reporter: "Powered by raw yet expertly measured performances from Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan as an ex-con fumbling for atonement and a luckless boy reaching out for a father figure, respectively, the film captures both the grit and the compassion for its characters’ pain that are hallmarks of the writing of novelist Larry Brown."

** The Canyons by Paul Schrader (USA) - I wrote a post about it HERE.

**Night Moves by Kelly Reichardt (USA) - I never got emotionally involved in this story about three radical environmentalists who blow up a damn to make their point. 

From Variety: "...this tale of three environmental activists planning a dangerous act of eco-terrorism has a quietly gripping first hour that builds to a suspenseful peak, then yields faintly diminishing returns thereafter as the doubts and implications set in."

****1/2 Philomena by Stephen Frears (UK) - I loved it; I thought it should have won the Golden Lion; I wrote about it HERE. It did win Best Screenplay here in Venice.

**Child of God by James Franco (USA) - I'm sorry, but, to me, there is nothing interesting about watching a serial killer defecate in the woods unless he does it differently from the rest of us.

From Variety: "Descending into the cavernous lower depths of human depravity inhabited by Lester Ballard, modern literature’s most famous necrophile, Franco has emerged with an extremely faithful, suitably raw but still relatively hemmed-in adaptation that compares favorably with his earlier films, yet falls short of achieving a truly galvanizing portrait of social and sexual deviance."

***1/2 Parkland by Peter Landesman (USA) It is always difficult to watch John Kennedy get assassinated. The State of Texas does not come off well in this version.

From The Guardian: "...if the film finally doesn't tell us anything we did not already know, the approach makes a worn-out old tragedy feel supple and urgent."

***The Armstrong Lie by Alex Gibney (USA) - I wrote about it HERE.

The Zero Theorem by Terry Gilliam
***The Zero Theorem by Terry Gilliam (UK; USA) Wacky, wonderful and worth-seeing, it seemed to really appeal to 21-year-old guys. From The Guardian: "...the film has a ragged charm, a Tiggerish bounce, and a certain sweet melancholy that bubbles up near the end. It is a wilfully iconoclastic film from a wilfully iconoclastic man. And it shows, for better or worse, that Gilliam is still in the game and eyeing the prize, despite his spectacularly ill-starred recent career."

**1/2 Locke by Steven Knight (UK) Interesting because it's in real time, but since the only action is a man driving while talking on the phone, it belongs on television -- or in the theater. Only Tom Hardy's performance makes it worth watching. 

From The Guardian: " Locke is played by Tom Hardy, who affects a rich Welsh delivery that I could listen to all day. After sitting through the entirety of this bold, well-acted yet ultimately exasperating movie, I almost feel I have."

**Disney Mickey Mouse "O Sole Minnie" by Paul Rudish (USA) Venice looked more like Las Vegas, Mickey wasn't charming and Minnie had no motivation.

****The Unknown Known by Errol Morris (USA) - I thought it was brilliant. I wrote about it HERE.

**1/2 Harlock: Space Pirate [3D] by Shinji Aramaki (Japan) Great for tweenage boys. 

From Variety: "...this is a glorious marshaling of state-of-the-art technical expertise that boasts topnotch stereoscopy, but the portentous script is too nerdy to cross over to the mainstream" 

*Under The Skin by Jonathan Glazer (UK) - I have not so disliked a movie in many years. Except for Scarlett Johansson's body, it was utterly boring.

From The Independent: "Even Scarlett Johansson can't save Jonathan Glazer's laughably bad alien hitchhiker movie" 

***1/2 Une Promesse (A Promise) by Patrice Leconte (France, Belgium) Restrained performances and a romantic script make this a French film worth seeing -- especially because it's in English and it stars Alan Rickman. Nobody else seemed to like it but me -- and the New York Times: "It is a pity that this artfully directed and subtly acted drama is not eligible for these awards, for which it would have been a worthy candidate." (Ha! I just read the entire article and mumbled to myself: "I have the same taste as this writer" -- and then saw it was Roderick Conway Morris, who is based here in Venice and whom I've known for years.)

Another p.o.v., from Variety: "Led by a trio of lackluster performances from Alan Rickman, Rebecca Hall and “Game of Thrones” thesp Richard Madden, this awkward, passionless drama conveys neither the sensuality nor the drawn-out sense of longing required by its period tale of a young secretary who falls in love with his employer’s wife."

***1/2 Walesa. Man of Hope by Andrzej Wajda (Poland) An enjoyable history lesson about Lech Walesa, one of the world's most dynamic and unlikely leaders -- proof that even an electrician can become the president of a country. 

***1/2 Amazonia [3D] by Thierry Ragobert (France, Brazil) - if a monkey could win best actor, it should go to this adorable creature who plays a domesticated capuchin monkey that lands in the Amazon rain forest after a plane crash. The film will leave you wondering how they ever shot it.

From Variety: "Kids and adults mature enough to handle mild animal peril will be duly enchanted by this universally distributable picture."

The Ukraine is Not a Brothel Photocall
 ***Ukraine is Not a Brothel by Kitty Green Australian filmmaker Kitty Green followed Femen, the radical Ukrainian "feminists" who bared their breasts to protest a patriarchal society, and discovered there was a man behind the scenes. 

Venezia Salva by Serena Nono (Venice) - is a film with non-professional actors who are guests in one of Venice's homeless shelters. Loosely based on Simone Weil's unfinished play, "Venice Saved," Serena takes us behind the facades of Venice as only a local girl can. I wrote about the filming of the story last year HERE


Ciao from Venezia,

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The ARMSTRONG Lie and the RUMSFELD Lies - Venice Film Festival

The Armstrong Lie by Alex Gibney
(Venice, Italy) Yesterday, I saw The ARMSTRONG Lie, Alex Gibney's documentary about Lance Armstrong, and started writing this post. Then I saw The UNKNOWN KNOWN, Errol Morris' documentary about Donald Rumsfeld. Armstrong and Rumsfeld have so much in common, it was riveting to watch. They are not only trying to manipulate everyone around them, THEY ARE LYING TO THEMSELVES and don't seem to have the slightest clue they are doing it. Both are arrogant, both are bullies, and both keep trying to rewrite their own narratives. Just the fact that both were willing to go on camera and allow the world to see their profound character flaws illustrates how deeply in denial they continue to live.

The Unknown Known by Errol Morris
But what really struck me is that neither of them would have been able to get away with the immensity of their lies if they didn't have enormous, powerful organizations behind them, and a whole bunch of people who profited from their lies. Both men are the public faces of organized crime.

And now both men are the subject of documentaries by Academy Award-winning filmmakers.

 "I didn't live a lot of lies, but I lived one big one." In 2008, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney set out to make a documentary about Lance Armstrong's comeback to the world of competitive cycling.

Personally, the sport held no interest for me, but in May of 2009, the Giro d'Italia was held in Venice -- out here on the Lido where I sit right now, typing, as a matter of fact. A fellow I was dating was one of the timekeepers, so I came out to the race. The entire scene was surreal. Much of the crowd was made up of off-duty American military, who were peeved that they were not allowed behind the scenes. As the day went on, I found myself standing directly behind Lance Armstrong. I wrote about the experience here:

Lance Armstrong in Venice

Alex Gibney
Gibney said he made two films -- the one about Armstrong's comeback that was never released, and this one. The original agreement was that he would have unprecedented access to Lance -- who would take a cut of the movie's "back end" in exchange -- as Armstrong set out to prove that he was still the best cyclist in the world.

Gibney said he had heard and seen so much that the only way to get the information across was to put himself in the story, and that so much was Lance Armstrong "lying to my face." He said he was naive, but not stupid, and knew about the doping charges, but really believed that Armstrong was clean in 2009. Gibney said that when you're close to someone, you start to root for them, and he was rooting for Armstrong in 2009. When he found out the truth, there was a disappointment, and "I was pissed off."

 From Variety:

“This is not a story about doping; it’s a story about power,” one interviewee shrewdly notes, and “The Armstrong Lie” zeroes in on the cynical realities of a sport where victory falls to those with the best medical and financial resources, and where the lure of sponsorships, massive publicity and millions of dollars in cancer-fighting research can encourage even the head of the Intl. Cycling Union to look the other way. The film also taps into the warped mentality of a professional sport where everyone of consequence is assumed to be doping under a code of collective silence, making it easy enough for a cheater to convince himself he isn’t gaining an unfair advantage so much as staying competitive.

After the movie, I asked Gibney if Lance Armstrong still gets a cut of the film's back end. Gibney nodded. "He does."

The Unknown Known
Watching Donald Rumsfeld's mind work was like taking a trip through the Looking Glass. In fact, Danny Elfman wrote the score for The Unknown Known, which made listening to Rummie even more rabbit-holey. Academy Award-winning director Errol Morris focuses on Rumsfeld's "snowflakes," what Rummie calls the tens of thousands of "white paper" memos he wrote throughout his career.

Rumsfeld, Ford, Cheney
As the film went on, I realized that Rumsfeld and his big-business buddies have been influencing the United States government most of my life. At the age of 30, he was elected to Congress in 1962, and hand-picked by Richard Nixon for a Cabinet-level position at age 37. When he was Director of the Office of Economic Opportunity in 1969-70, he brought the 28-year-old Dick Cheney on board. Among his other positions, he was Secretary of Defense under both Ford and George W. Bush. The documentary makes it clear how Rumsfeld controlled the Ford White House, and had presidential ambitions himself.

And for nearly 50 years, Rumsfeld wrote thousands and thousands of memos -- snowflakes -- and whipped them off to everybody -- his staff, his colleagues, even the president. When he was forced out of the government in 2006, he wrote a snowflake for everyone -- including those who may never have gotten a memo before -- informing them that the blizzard had stopped. Morris uses these memos to delve into Rumsfeld's mind. When asked if he had been manipulated by Rumsfeld, Morris said that the documentary was a portrait of a person, and he much preferred to let Rumsfeld contradict himself, which he does endlessly. He becomes lost in a sea of words. "I do not think that Rumsfeld has been left off the hook."

The snowflakes are freaky, as is Rumsfeld's obsession with the dictionary definition of words, his dictionary of preference being the Pentagon Dictionary, not Websters. (Why does it not surprise me to learn that the Pentagon has its own dictionary?) To make the case to invade Iraq, Rumsfeld says, "The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

According to Rumsfeld, Pearl Harbor was a "failure of imagination." He seems to believe that the USA has an obligation to imagine every insane thing that every nut job on the planet can imagine, and then act to prevent it. You imagine the worst, and treat it as if it's really going to happen.

Errol Morris
Morris says that what he found fascinating about Rumsfeld was his use of philosophy, and his obsession with words. Not just the way he manipulates other people, but also manipulates himself.  During the press conference, Morris agreed that many politicians say one thing one day and something different the next, but he found Rumsfeld unique: "Within seconds he can say the exact opposite of what he just said. I found it strange."

The film opens with Rumsfeld reading a memo:

"There are known knowns.

There are known unknowns.

There are unknown unknowns.

But there are also unknown knowns -- that is to say, things that you think you know that it turns out you did not."

By the end of the film, Rumsfeld will declare that the memo is backwards, and that the real definition of unknown knowns is: "things that you possibly may know that you don't know you know."

I thought the film was genius. Because it is not only a glimpse into the mind of Donald Rumsfeld, it is a glimpse into the scary apparatus of the United States of America itself.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog