“A United Platform”

Carlo Hintermann’s The Book of Vision (2020)

The six weeks that begin as August turns to September are usually among the busiest on the film calendar. Having spent the year competing for the highest-profile titles, the Venice, Telluride, Toronto, and to a lesser extent, New York film festivals then jostle for the attention of journalists and industry insiders. The greater the impression that each festival can make as the most talked about event, the one that launches the most prestigious awards season contenders, the higher the attendance numbers—which in turn draw more sponsors and justify greater government support, financial and otherwise. As with everything else, the pandemic is changing all that. On Wednesday, the artistic directors of all four festivals released a joint statement: “We knew we had to adapt. We decided to collaborate as we never have before.”

This fall, the festivals are presenting themselves as “a united platform for the best cinema we can find.” As IndieWire’s Eric Kohn and many others have pointed out, the statement comes up short—way short—on specifics, but still, this is no small thing. Such collective “engagement would have been unthinkable until now,” writes Kohn. “Telluride’s ability to launch films with its secretive lineup ahead of TIFF led to the Canadian festival’s 2014 policy barring films that played at Telluride from premiering at TIFF on its splashy opening weekend.” Those rules have loosened in the following years, but for its part, Venice has up to now carried on playing “its own aggressive world premiere game.”

Earlier this week, Venice issued an update on its current plans for the seventy-seventh edition, still slated to open on September 2. Like Toronto, Venice will hone its 2020 official selection down from hundreds of films to around fifty. Cate Blanchett is still committed to preside over the jury, and the full lineup will be revealed on July 28. Venice Classics, in the meantime, will move this year to Bologna, where Il Cinema Ritrovato will host the program of new restorations and documentaries on cinema.

Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera had much more to say about how these plans have taken shape when he spoke with Variety’s Nick Vivarelli on Tuesday. “Up until the beginning of May, I actually thought we could not have the festival,” says Barbera. But as Italy, such a tragically out-of-control COVID-19 hot spot in the spring, began to flatten the curve, contain the virus, and reopen, Barbera and his team got back to work, to drawing up—and then, as the global situation kept radically shifting—revising plans to stage the event after all. “It’s clear that the situation in the U.S., which is still one of the hardest-hit countries . . . is such that we will not have those two or three big titles from the studios,” Barbera tells Vivarelli. Netflix, too, is holding its titles until the smoke clears, meaning, for example, that David Fincher’s Mank, “a film ideally destined for Venice,” won’t be in the program.

On the upside, Barbera can still promise a few surprises. “We really have lots of films directed by women,” he says. “Not because we changed our selection criteria . . . But because we received lots of films directed by women that are of really great quality—better than the films by their male colleagues.” And on a perhaps inadvertently amusing note, Barbera adds: “We have the advantage of having the longest red carpet in the world, so rearranging it for social distancing is quite easy.”

Vivarelli has also spoken with Carlo Hintermann, whose first fictional feature, The Book of Vision, has been selected to open the thirty-fifth edition of the Venice International Film Critics’ Week on September 3. In 2002, Hintermann directed the documentary Rosy-Fingered Dawn: A Film on Terrence Malick, and years later, he found himself working as the second unit director on the scenes from Malick’s The Tree of Life (2011) shot in Italy. Malick, the executive producer of The Book of Vision, has helped Hintermann assemble his team and told him to “make the movie that’s in your mind.”

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