The Diary: Venice Film Festival; Jonathan Lee; Tony Blair; Bob Geldof; King Kennedy; Twilight; Harry Potter

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The Independent Culture

Life in Venice

First impressions of Venice as the film festival kicks off: it's under radical reconstruction. Alighting from my vaporetto at the Lido, I was greeted by lots of fenced off bits and pieces, depressingly reminiscent of inner-city London roadworks. Go further inland and the Palazzo del Cinema is under construction while the historic Hotel des Bains is being converted into apartments (to the horror of upmarket Venice veterans). Still, at least the Excelsior Hotel is still standing. Aside from the off-putting construction works, another "trend" is already making itself felt in Venice this year – yet another visual artist has turned his hand to film. Isaac Julien will screen his Better Life at the festival. Inspired by a combination of contemporary Shanghai, Chinese fable and the 2004 Morecambe Bay tragedy in which 23 Chinese cockle-pickers died, it stars Maggie Cheung (above left). Julien, a former YBA and Turner Prize nominee, follows in the footsteps of artist colleagues including Sam Taylor-Wood, Steve McQueen and Julian Schnabel (whose film Miral also screens in Venice) who have all turned to film in recent years and have won film festival plaudits and prizes for their efforts.

Whole new chapter

When the novelist Jonathan Lee was invited to a book-swap event he decided it would only be right to take a copy of his debut novel, Who Is Mr Satoshi? to give away. "If that's not against the rules," he says. "In return I'd like to get my hands on some exciting poetry or prose by a writer I've never heard of." Before being asked to speak at the event, on 27 September in Warwick, he was hazy on the details of the new "book-swapping" phenomenon. "I was lured by the description of it as a weird combination of book group, interview and tea shop, complete with home-baked cakes." The idea is the brainchild of publisher, Scott Pack, who invites guest authors such as Lee, independent booksellers, and readers, to talk about books and eat cake, on condition that they bring along a book they no longer want. "It should be interesting to see which unloved books they bring along in the hope of swapping them for something better," says Lee.

Labour of love

Never mind Tony Blair's incendiary words on Gordon Brown – who didn't know that the two men did not see eye to eye? – the former PM has taken a sly pot-shot at fairweather friends in the art world. Kicking off a gushing piece of purple prose about Bob Geldof (above centre) in his memoir – "Bob. What can I say about Bob? He can drive you completely nuts. He can talk forever. He can speak to world leaders like they were errant schoolkids. Personally I didn't mind that – but I was the exception, believe me..." – he goes on to name one of Geldof's many saving graces: "He is brave because he isn't one of your fair-weather, 'don't sully me with compromise', 'now you're not popular I don't want to associate with you' types of which the arts world is inordinately full.'" Really? I wonder who he could be referring to? So much for Cool Britannia.

Legendary leaders back in the limelight

In what is being billed as a "unique event in cinema history", three dead political leaders – Martin Luther King, John F Kennedy and Robert F Kennedy – have been lined up to star in the upcoming film, King Kennedy. Directed by Ronan O'Rahilly (creator of Radio Caroline), King Kennedy is to be made entirely from international archive material, and previously unseen footage. There will be no narration, no talking heads and no actors, seeking simply to capture the spirit of the men through their own archived images. Others in the cast, playing themselves, are Nikita Khruschev, Frank Sinatra, Lyndon Johnson, Bull Conner and Fidel Castro. Well, it marks a new level of authenticity, if nothing else.

Stranger than fiction

Cambridge University experts are to convene to try and quantify the effects that the books in the Twilight (above right) and Harry Potter series have on the brain. From today, scientists, authors and education experts will gather for a three-day conference to discuss whether there are "Twilight zones" in the teenage mind – areas of the brain that are in some way affected or altered by reading the novels of Meyer or Rowling.