VENICE, Italy — The 74th Venice Film Festival opened on an upward trajectory Wednesday with Alexander Payne’s sci-fi comedy “Downsizing” eliciting plenty of praise and bolstering the Lido’s status as a prime awards-season launching pad.

Payne and stars Matt Damon, Hong Chau and Kristen Wiig pranced down the red carpet on a balmy evening promoting the Paramount pic in which humans agree to get shrunk down in order to live luxuriously in a government resort as part of an effort to save the planet from overpopulation. The paparazzi had a feeding frenzy.

Damon was accompanied by his wife Luciana Barroso in a fiery red gown. Also seen: Paramount Pictures Chairman Jim Jianopulos, main jury president Annette Bening, and Brazilian supermodel Isabel Goulart.

Once the Palazzo del Cinema theatre was full, Italy’s president Sergio Mattarella made his entry to warm applause. Security is tight on the Lido with Italy considered a possible upcoming ISIS target in the aftermath of the recent Barcelona attack. Security checks and cement protection barriers to prevent truck attacks are the most visible aspects of the anti-terror efforts which also involve floating security devices in the lagoon, plainclothes policemen with body cameras and sharpshooters on rooftops, according to local media.

The somber but effective ceremony was hosted by Italian actor Alessandro Borghi, who stars in Netflix TV series “Suburra” which is launching from the Lido.

In a brief opening adress Paolo Baratta, president of the fest’s parent organisation, the Venice Biennale, underscored improvements in the event’s facilities. “We are inaugurating a new citadel of cinema,” he said. It includes a state-of-the-art red cube-shaped 450-seat screening venue and some buildings on the Lazzaretto, a tiny island a stone’s throw from the Lido that was a leper colony in the 15th century, where Venice is launching a 22-title competitive strand dedicated to works made for virtual reality-viewing, the first-ever competition for VR works launched by a major film event.

But the highlight of the evening was Bening’s beautifully delivered speech, which also wrapped up the ceremony:

“For me cinema is magic, and I think all of us who make films are primarily audience members. We make films because we love to watch them. And to me the moment when the lights come down in the theatre and there’s a moment of silence and darkness; that is the moment of possibility. When all of us — it doesn’t matter of you are the president or the usher, or whether you are Italian or American or Iranian or Chinese or a man or a woman — we can lose ourselves in the best way possible and become free. And become like children again: open, curious and available to the possibility of the moment,” she said.

“This is what we aspire to. Along with my fellow jury members, we bring all of our passions and enthusiasm and hopefully some knowledge, but most importantly our deep love of cinema, to every film that we see. I am deeply honoured to be president of the jury.”

The fest runs through Sept. 9.