Venice Film Festival seeks to dodge coronavirus and controversy - GulfToday

Venice Film Festival seeks to dodge coronavirus and controversy

Venice 2020 2

Cate Blanchett arrives for the screening of the film "Joker" on August 31, 2019. File/AFP

What if you threw a film festival and nobody came?

That, in essence, is the challenge facing organisers of this year's Venice Film Festival, the glamorous annual competition where stars, critics, photographers and industry executives mingle on the bustling Lido, overlooking sandy beaches and the blue Adriatic.


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Provided, of course, it's a normal year.

But in 2020, the world's oldest film festival is forced to walk a tightrope between preserving its lustre as the premier launch pad for Academy Award-winning films, while safely navigating the coronavirus crisis and averting the controversy over gender inequality that has dogged it in the past.

Venice 2020 1 Actor Willem Dafoe holds the Coppa Volpi Best Actor award for 'At Eternity's Gate' at the Venice Film Festival. File/AP

Opening Wednesday and continuing until September 12, the prestigious event now in its 77th year will be the first international film festival since the pandemic shuttered competitions around the world.

It has put in place a host of safety measures from limited seating to thermal scanners, to a fan-free red carpet to protect attendees as Covid-19 cases continue to climb in Italy and around the world.

In July, festival director Alberto Barbera declared the event "saved" as he announced the 18 films among the approximately 60 presented that would vie for the top award, the Golden Lion.

He promised that the festival would preserve the "liveliness of contemporary cinema".

Venice 2020 4 Lady Gaga, left, and Bradley Cooper, at the premiere of the film 'A Star Is Born' at the Venice Film Festival. AP

Unprecedented territory

But just days ahead of the opening, organisers are scrambling to navigate unprecedented territory amid uncertain attendance and last-minute cancellations.

Whereas Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson provided the star firepower at last year's festival, ongoing travel restrictions especially a travel ban from the United States into Europe mean that most Hollywood elites will be no-shows, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.

Those arriving from outside Europe's Schengen zone will have to submit results of a Covid-19 test just before their departure, with a second test carried out in Venice, meaning that some attendees may have to cancel.

Venice 2020 5 Johnny Depp signs autographs for fans as he departs after a photo call for 'Black Mass.'  File/AP

Earlier this week, the festival announced that American actor Matt Dillon would be a last-minute substitute on the jury for Romanian director Crisit Puiu.

More women directors

The uncertain lineup of stars and dearth of top names leaves Australian actress Cate Blanchett, president of the jury, to take up the mantle of celebrity and social activism at Venice.

Blanchett was the leader of the #MeToo women's march up the red carpet steps at Cannes two years ago that sought to bring attention to the lack of parity and diversity in cinema.

The presence of Blanchett helps raise such awareness while the festival seeks to stanch criticism levelled in recent years over the glaring lack of women directors in festivals' top lineups.

Venice 2020 3 Actress Olivia Colman kisses the Coppa Volpi Best Actress award for 'The Favourite.' File/AP 

The Oscar-winning headliner told Variety magazine on Thursday that this year's eight women directors in the main competition lineup of Venice is "a direct response to the positive advances that have been made this year".

Others say it is too early to tell whether a page has turned.

Last year's festival opened under controversy after the inclusion in the lineup of French-Polish director Roman Polanski, who fled the United States after his 1977 conviction of rape of a 13-year-old girl.

There were also only two female directors in the selection. In both 2018 and 2017, only one female director was represented.

Blanchett said more was riding on the jury's decisions this year, given the limited opportunities for filmmakers to show their work publicly, due to the coronavirus closures.

"So, whatever the deliberations the jury will make will be more impactful. I don't take that responsibility or privilege lightly."

Agence France-Presse

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