A grand experiment begins today as Venice becomes the world’s first major film festival to stage a physical, in-person event since the coronavirus outbreak. Other, more modestly sized festivals, such as Il Cinema Ritrovato, which wrapped on Monday, have shown that it can be done, but Venice’s seventy-seventh edition will represent a giant—and closely watched—step toward the new normal: masks at all times, indoors and out; theaters filled to fifty percent capacity, tops; fever checks and, for those arriving from outside the EU, swabs; fewer films, but more screenings; and a wall lining the red carpet to keep fans from spewing love and droplets at the celebrities on parade.
Most of those celebrities will not be American. There will be one American, Matt Dillon, on the international jury presided over by Cate Blanchett, and another, producer Christine Vachon, on Claire Denis’s Orizzonti jury. But even most American filmmakers with new work slated to premiere in Venice won’t be able to make the trip. “Pull up a thesaurus and look up the word anxious, and I am all of those things,” Regina King tells Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman. King’s directorial debut is One Night in Miami, based on the legendary meeting of Muhammed Ali (when he was still Cassius Clay), Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and Jim Brown. “We haven’t had the opportunity for screenings because of the pandemic,” she says. “I’m honored our film is premiering at Venice, it’s such a great platform, but something feels wicked that I won’t be able to be there.”
Tonight, the artistic directors of six European festivals—Berlin’s Carlo Chatrian, Cannes’s Thierry Frémaux, Locarno’s Lili Hinstin, Rotterdam’s Vanja Kaludjercic, Karlovy Vary’s Karel Och, and San Sebastián’s José Luis Rebordinos (London’s Tricia Tuttle has had to cancel for personal reasons)—will join Venice director Alberto Barbera on stage “to express our support for the industry and for filmmakers, talents, and exhibitors who have suffered the most,” as Alberto Barbera explains to Variety’s Nick Vivarelli. The directors have already appeared together at a press conference this afternoon. “The theatrical experience is in the very nature of the film industry, so we have to fight and support the sector,” Barbera said. “This is a battle for civilization and for culture. We cannot lose this experience.”
Speaking to Birgit Heidsiek at Cineuropa earlier this week, Barbera called on producers and distributors to stop waiting for better days and to get the films they’ve been withholding into theaters—now. “It is a risk to wait one more year in this particular situation,” he said. “Why should somebody be convinced to return to his old habits after one or one-and-a-half years and give up . . . watching films at home for a small amount of money? Most distributors are waiting for the good moment to release their films, but that is a risk which could damage the entire distribution system and especially the theaters.”
When Frémaux was asked today about the challenge streaming platforms might pose to festivals and the theatrical experience, he noted that these services “have been around for about five years. We’ll see if in a hundred years we are celebrating the 105th anniversary of the platforms . . . We have to stop announcing the death of cinemas when something new happens. When Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing movie in the world, no one claimed the death of the platforms.”
Venice 2020 will officially open tonight with Daniele Luchetti’s The Ties, premiering out of competition, and we’ll be taking a look at what the critics have to say about this story of a rocky marriage as well as dozens of other features—and shorts, such as Pedro Almodóvar’s The Human Voice with Tilda Swinton—in the coming days and weeks. Staffers at the Film Stage and the Playlist have posted annotated lists of the films they are looking forward to most.
Neither list includes Molecole, which may turn out to be the most fitting feature in this year’s lineup. In February, director Andrea Segre left his home in Rome for Venice, where he was scheduled to work on a couple of theater and film projects. Then Italy became the global epicenter of the pandemic and went into a strictly enforced lockdown. Segre was stranded in the city of his late father, a Venetian physicist and chemist who studied the movements of molecules. With cinematographer Matteo Calore, Segre began to explore the eerily empty city, capturing, as Davide Abbatescianni writes at Cineuropa, “the mist, the dark streets, the imposing gloomy sky, and the sea stripped almost entirely bare of boats. Further enhancing these suggestive images is the music of Teho Teardo, a highly evocative addition which emphasizes the sensation of fragility pervading the spirit of the film.”
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