VENICE WATCH: McDormand hails female stories

VENICE, Italy (AP) — The Venice Film Festival is bringing 11 days of red carpet premieres, innovative movies and Hollywood glamour to the Italian city. Here's what has been catching the eye of The Associated Press:

FRANCES MCDORMAND HAILS WOMEN'S STORIES

Frances McDormand says her latest project, "Olive Kitteridge," is unusual — its central character is a woman over 40.

The Academy Award-winning actress is in Venice with the four-part HBO miniseries, in which she plays an acerbic schoolteacher in a small Maine town full of troubled souls.

"It's kind of a subversive act to tell a story of a woman past a certain age, to develop a four-hour movie based on a marriage and a story of two people past middle age," McDormand told The Associated Press.

The 57-year-old, who won an Oscar for "Fargo," received a career prize from the Italian festival on Monday before a red-carpet screening of the show.

Based on Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, "Olive Kitteridge" is directed by Lisa Cholodenko, whose big-screen features include "Laurel Canyon" and "The Kids Are All Right."

It's due to air on HBO in November, but McDormand said the creators thought of it more as a four-hour movie than a TV show. She said the length was necessary to give the story room to breathe.

"Ninety minutes isn't enough for a female story," she said. "You can skim the surface in 90 minutes, but you can't really get to the heart of anything.

"Long-format television is a better way to tell a female story."

—By Jill Lawless, http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

SKARSGARD PRAISES 'FUN' VON TRIER

Lars von Trier has been called many things — brilliant, tasteless, provocative. Fun-loving guy is generally not one of them.

But frequent collaborator Stellan Skarsgard says he agrees "to everything he asks me to do," because working with von Trier is so much fun.

"It might not always be pleasant watching his films, but that's different," Skarsgard said at a Venice news conference for von Trier's five-and-a-half-hour porn-and-storytelling epic "Nymphomaniac."

Skarsgard said he agreed the moment von Trier called him and said "Stellan, my next film will be a porno film and I would like you to play the male lead."

"Who could resist an invitation like that?"

Von Trier was banished from the Cannes Film Festival three years ago for saying he could sympathize "a little bit" with Hitler.

Afterward, the director said he would no longer speak in public, and didn't attend Monday's news conference. Instead, Skarsgard phoned him with journalists' questions and then relayed the answers.

Producer Louise Vesth announced that von Trier's next project will be an English-language TV series entitled "The House That Jack Built."

"Nymphomaniac" — whose director's cut is screening in Venice — stars Charlotte Gainsbourg as a sexually insatiable woman with a taste for S&M who tells her eventful life story to Skarsgard's quiet intellectual.

Skarsgard said making it had been educational.

"I know a little more about female sexuality, but it's still a mystery," Skarsgard said. "On the other hand, my own sexuality is also a mystery."

—By Jill Lawless, http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT TOUCHES 'VILLA TOUMA'

"Villa Touma" is a movie about a home, caught up in a dispute about its homeland.

Arab-Israeli director Suha Arraf submitted her drama about three Palestinian sisters living in their ancestral house in Ramallah to the Venice Film Festival as a Palestinian entry. That sparked demands for her to return the Israeli public money that went in to the movie.

Arraf believes she is caught up in mounting hostility to Arabs in Israel, heightened by the recent Gaza conflict.

"I think if my film came before the war, maybe they would talk about why it's Palestinian and not Israeli, but not a storm like this," the director said during an interview in Venice.

"I think Gaza has made people totally crazy. We've suffered, as Palestinians inside Israel, a lot in the last two months." She said Arabs had been harassed on the street and some Israelis had boycotted Arab-owned shops and restaurants.

"What's happening to me, Suha, as a director is part of what is happening to all the Palestinians inside Israel in the last two months," she said.

—By Zara Eldridge

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