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Venice Film Festival: What's been salvaged

Matthias Beckonert
September 2, 2020

The Venice Film Festival has been marked by the COVID-19 pandemic. The result is an astonishing diversity of films in the competition, including a German one.

A Golden Lion top prize
The Golden Lion is the top prize in VeniceImage: La Biennale di Venezia /ASAC

The Venice International Film Festival — called the "Biennale di Venezia" in Italian — has always been a highlight of the annual cinema season. However, for the 77th edition this year, what is grabbing a lot of attention is the fact that the major event taking place on the Lido, the Venetian lagoon's famous barrier island, is the first major film festival to be held somewhat "normally" again since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

For festival director Alberto Barbera, the decision to avoid holding the world's oldest film festival virtually or to cancel it completely — as was the case with the Cannes Film Festival— is a "sign of confidence and concrete support" for the film industry.

Read more: A year without Cannes: What is the future of film festivals?

Masks are a must in Venice

However, in consultation with health safety authorities, there are new measures in place: Tickets are now only available in advance and online, but the number of screenings has been increased in the hope that this will improve the distribution of viewers.

Two new outdoor cinemas were built to accommodate the greater number of screenings. Before admission, the temperature of each visitor is measured; within a cinema, viewers must wear face masks and only every second seat may be occupied.

Cate Blanchett smiling
Honoring women's achievements: Cate Blanchett, as celebrated actress and jury presidentImage: Reuters/B. Tessier

The program has also been streamlined. The "Venice Classics" series, which screens restored film classics, has been moved to the "Il Cinema Ritrovato" festival in Bologna, while the "Sconfini" series — which highlights more experimental films — has been suspended for the time being. In addition, the "Venice VR Expanded" competition, launched in 2017, will be held online to honor the best contributions in virtual reality. Still, the "heart of the festival" has been rescued, says Barbera.

Italy trumps Hollywood

At the heart of the festival are the films competing for the Golden Lion for best film. There are 18 this year — only slightly fewer than in previous years, but the selection feels more diverse than usual. There are remarkably few American productions on the list, as many major Hollywood productions have postponed their cinema release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chloe Zhao's road drama Nomadland is the only film with an A-list Hollywood star: Two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) plays a woman in her 60s who has lost everything in the Great Recession of the 2000s and travels through the western United States as a modern nomad.

On the other hand, Italian cinema takes centerstage: Four of the 18 candidates for the Golden Lion are from Italy, and the film Lacci by director Daniele Luchetti (not in the competition) will open the festival.

In addition, considerably more films by female directors are in the running. There has been major criticism of the lack of equality in recent years, so it is refreshing to discover that, this year, 8 of 18 films were directed by women. The selection was made "solely on the basis of quality and not as a result of a gender quota," emphasized festival director Barbera.


Adapted by: als