I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes type of person preferring backstage to the limelight so I decided to take a look at how Venice is preparing for the upcoming 71st Film Festival.
The Venice Film Festival, or La Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematographica to give it its proper title, is the oldest festival dedicated to cinema in the world and is held every year in late August or early September on the Lido island to the east of the historic Venetian city.
The Lido is an Adriatic beach resort offering Venetians and tourists a spot of sun, sea and sand just a gentle 20 minute boat ride away from the humid streets of the city.
It’s a great little get away island of grand summer villas, gardens and of course beaches. The island feels fresh, airy and spacious after the calle and alleys of the historic city.
And although it allows cars, vans and buses, which is a bit of a shock to the system after the tranquility of gondola filled canals, the Lido’s main mode of transport seems to be the bike.
For 11 days each year, however, the Lido goes a little Hollywood as actors walk the red carpet, films are premiered and lots of industry schmoozing goes on at the countless dinners, cocktail parties and DJ events.
Some events are strictly invitation-only access for the great and good of film, whilst others are open to the public ( or a canny gate-crasher maybe! )
Screenings and ceremonies take place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema, which houses the Sala Grande, together with a number of other smaller cinemas such as the Sala Darsena and Palabiennale close by. All the buildings are centred around the movie village on the Lungamare Marconi coast road, a 20 minute walk from the vaporetto stops on the other coast to the west.
Tickets for the 55 films screening can easily be purchased in the month before the festival, with prices ranging from around €9.50 to €50. However, with attendance of the festival expected to top 40,000 over the fortnight, you have to be quick off the mark at the Box Office as films typically only show once, or maybe twice. Some tickets were still available yesterday (25/08/2014) but will undoubtedly sell out.
This year 55 films have been selected for screening from a possible 1500. The festival will open with the premiere of a surreal black comedy starring Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Naomi Watts called “Birdmand or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance”. Posters and billboards are already all over the movie village on the Lido before the crowds arrive.
Many of this year’s films have dark themes of violence, war, economic hardship or organised crime. “Anime Nere” (Black souls), for example, starring Peppino Mazzotta, (famous for his portrayal of Inspector Fazio in Inspector Montalbano), tackles the subject of the mafia in Calabria. Whilst “Perez”, starring Luca Zingaretti (famous for his portrayal of Inspector Montalbano alongside Mazzotta), follows a disillusioned lawyer, whose career has been blighted by fear of success and who ultimately faces breaking the law to protect his daughter from danger.
Meanwhile American film “Good Kill”, starring Ethan Hawke, follows a drone operator who has become disillusioned with remote warfare. And Spiderman star Andrew Garfield plays a recently homeless man battling for justice to get his home back in American indie film “99 Homes”. Fellow American, Willem Dafoe stars in “Pasolini” which revisits the last 24 hours of real life Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s life before he was murdered under mysterious circumstances in November 1975.
But the festival isn’t just about premiering new films, although just to be chosen by the festival committee is in itself an honour. This year 20 of the 55 films have been selected to compete for the coveted Leone D’Oro ( Golden Lion ) best film award voted for by the festival jury. The award takes its name from the symbol of Venice, its lion and is deemed one of the most important in the industry along with the Palme D’Or (Golden Palm) of the Cannes Film Festival and the Goldener Bär (Golden bear) of Berlin’s Film Festival.
French composer Alexandre Desplat heads the jury and is joined by Palestinian director Elia Suleiman, British actor Tim Roth, Italian actor-director Carlo Verdone, British costume designer Sandy Powell, Indian novelist Jhumpa Lahiri, German director Philip Groning, Austrian director Jessica Hausner and Chinese actor-director Joan Chen. Notable past winners of the Leone D’Oro include Vera Drake and Brokeback Mountain.
The jury also votes for the Leone D’Argento (Silver Lion) for the best director and the Coppa Volpi (Volpi Cup) which goes to the best actor and actress. Special Lion awards can also be made for an overall body of work by a director or actor although these are not always given each year.
Films not in competition, such as Perez, still jostle for critical acclaim which they hope will translate into box office sales. Appearing at the Venice Film Festival offers great publicity before the general release of the films in the autumn and also adds to each film’s visibility before other industry awards such as the Academy Awards, the Oscars, in the new year.
The festival also shows a few classics and documentaries which this year will include two Sophia Loren screenings in homage to the Italian siren who turns 80 in September, namely Marco Spagnoli’s “Women of Myth” and 1977 film “Una Giornata Particolare” (A special day) which also stars Italian legend Marcello Mastroianni.
All the festival action centres on the movie village around the Palazzo del Cinema, Excelsior Hotel and Al Leone D’Oro bar.
And final preparations were being made early this week to make sure facilities are ready, lawns laid, flowers planted, bars stocked and seating set out ready for the sunshine (hopefully!)
But the good news is that if you can’t make it down to the Lido and are in Italy, you can follow highlights of the opening ceremony and daily roundups via the Rai Movie channel.
So with less than 24 hours to go, and preparations being completed as I type no doubt, all we need now are the actors, directors and audience and the President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, who will be attending the opening ceremony tomorrow (Wednesday 27th August 2014). Actors Moran Atias, famous for a variety of roles in Italian films, and Emma Stone, famous for her part in Spiderman, were spotted by a water taxi driver friend of mine at the Marco Polo Airport this morning and big hitters including Al Pacino, Willem Dafoe and Andrew Garfield are expected to join them on the Lido during the festival (we hope!).
And I’ll be there too, mingling and schmoozing my little heart out! I’ve managed to bag tickets to 5 different screenings, although sadly I had to do it the conventional way, via the box office! I’m very excited to be seeing Al Pacino’s The Humbling, about a failing actor who falls for a younger woman, Ethan Hawke’s starring role in Shakespeare’s little known play Cymbeline, and a trio of Italian films starring personal favourites Peppino Mazzotta in Anime Nere, Riccardo Scamarcio in Pasolini and Luca Zingaretti in Perez.
So who’s going to walk away with the Leone D’Oro? Well, who knows! One thing is for sure though, its going to be fun as Venice welcomes a host of stars of the silver screen! And I for one cannot wait to see what they’ve been working on for us over the last few months! So switch off your mobile phones, finish your popcorn and settle back to feast your eyes on the cream of the cinema crop for the next 2 weeks!
The 71st Venice Film Festival runs from Wednesday 27th August to Saturday 6th September 2014
Note : the 72nd Venice Film Festival runs from Wednesday 2nd September to Saturday 12th September 2015
Official website – here
Highlights from the opening ceremony and daily events can be watched in Italy on Rai Movie during the duration of the festival
Getting to the Lido
From St Marks, Rialto, Ferrovia etc – take the number 1 vaporetto
From Tronchetto – take the car ferry over to the Lido
More information – www.actv.it
Getting around the Lido
Bus – 2 bus routes operate on the island and bus timetables have been extended to take account of late screenings.
More information – www.actv.it
Cars are permitted on the island.
Bikes can be hired from near the Lido vaporetto stop at Venice Bikes and other companies.
Walking – the island is quite walkable as its flat with just a few small bridges over the canals.