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Will Venice Film Fest deliver?

 | August 29, 2012

There will be 50 world premieres this time, including new movies from Terence Malick, Susanne Bier, Robert Redford, Brian De Palma, Spike Lee, Manoel de Oliveira and Amos Gitai.


This year, the Venice Film Festival assumes added significance. The 11-day annual event, which opened on the picturesque island of Lido, just across mainland Venice, on Wednesday evening, is celebrating its 80th birthday.

The world’s oldest movie festival, which began rolling in 1932, as the war clouds were gathering over Europe, Venice was meant to be a screen for arthouse fare. But it turned out to be, most certainly in its initial years, a platform for Fascist propaganda. Both Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany, who went on to forge an unholy nexus that plunged half the world into death and destruction, used the Film Festival to spread their often inflammatory and warped messages.

Not just this, but the two dictators also got around manipulating awards, rewarding those moviemakers who made cinema that praised the two. This was one important reason why the French, absolutely peeved over the way their own cinema was being trampled over, decided in 1939 to have their own festival at Cannes.

Paradoxically, while Cannes grew to be the number one among the film festivals, Venice tottered and almost sank into the Adriatic Sea on whose shores stand Lido. There were causes for this decline; Cannes retained its directors for years, allowing them enough time to work on the Festival and develop it, while Venice had as many heads as there were governments in Italy!

So, when Marco Mueller took over the reins of a virtually gasping Venice Film Festival some nine years ago, many hoped that he would steady the Lido event. He did, and his last year at Venice in 2011 was marked by no less than 65 world premieres. In fact, every movie in the top official sections had not screened anywhere.

Sadly, it was politics again that led to Mueller’s exit, and new man, Alberto Barbera, had once been the Venice Director, and his steering of this year’s Festival – made more important by the fact that it is its 80th birthday – will been keenly watched, almost microscopically.

Barbera hopes to make his first Festival an interesting cocktail of established names and new voices. There will be 50 world premieres this time, including new movies from Terence Malick, Susanne Bier, Robert Redford, Brian De Palma, Spike Lee, Manoel de Oliveira and Amos Gitai. The new voices will be those of Rama Burshtein, (Fill the Void), and Haifaa Al-Mansour (Wadjda, the first ever work from Saudi Arabia).

The competition lineup is slimmer than they have been under Mueller.  Barbera wants every film to enjoy equal exposure.  “I don’t like the bulimia that characterises most festivals. A festival should take the responsibility to be more selective. Each movie should be equally promoted. If you have 25 films in Competition and screen three movies a day, one of them is not going to get a great screening time. I don’t want to hide any films,” he said.

Yes, but of course.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is a Chennai-India based author, columnist and film critic, and can be contacted at [email protected] He is an FMT columnist.


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