Venice Festival: Award Season Hopefuls From the U.S. Crowd the Lido’s Screens

Even before it kicks off on Aug. 30, the Venice Film Festival has bolstered its growing reputation as a launching pad for awards-season titles.

More so than in past editions, a deluge of English-language pics, including new works by Alexander Payne, George Clooney, Darren Aronofsky and Benicio Del Toro, will be world-premiering on the Lido during the fest’s first few days, before segueing to Telluride and Toronto. This year there is a greater number of movies that all three events just had to have, which is causing scheduling headaches and added stress for talent and publicists, plus more costs, of course. But apparently it’s worth it.

“We all wanted those particular seven, eight or 10 titles, which made things a little bit more complicated,” says Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera. “I’m only happy if a film I’ve chosen also goes to Telluride or Toronto.”

The point being: after launching multiple Oscar winners four years in a row — “Gravity,” “Birdman,” “Spotlight,” “La La Land” — Venice has become tougher to ignore. And it has gained more leverage to ensure that the Lido is the first stop on the trifecta.

The real scheduling conflicts came with Telluride, with which Venice overlaps directly. The tightly curated festival in a Colorado mountain resort has also gained more Oscar heft lately, especially since launching “Moonlight” last year. But Barbera makes no bones about the fact that, as he sees it, there is no comparison when it comes to promotional punch.

“In Telluride you have 10 critics who write for the trades; in Venice you have 3,000 journalists from around the world. That is the difference.”
“Venice seems to be a much better launch pad for anything critically driven,” agrees a veteran publicist.

But the Venice chief also denies that there is cutthroat competition with Telluride or that there is a war. “There is nothing of the sort,” he says. “There is a collaboration, as I believe there should be among festivals.”

Barbera also says he is “97% happy” with the Venice lineup and that they only missed out on “two or three” films they wanted. These include Richard Linklater’s upcoming New York Film Festival opener “Last Flag Flying,” and Christian Bale Western “Hostiles,” which is expected to debut at Telluride.

Amazon Studios, which opted for a New York launch on Linklater’s latest, will be on the Lido with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s docu on the global refugee crisis, “Human Flow,” in competition. It’s a perfect example of what Barbera calls the “extreme variety” of this year’s selection, which certainly transcends the U.S. awards season frenzy.

Competing for the Golden Lion alongside such Oscar bait titles as Payne’s “Downsizing” and Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” which both star Matt Damon, there is “a whole other range of different types of movies that are being made today around the world, which are not promoted and sustained and that need Venice for this,” Barbera notes.

These include Australian Aboriginal frontier drama “Sweet Country,” a sophomore work by Warwick Thornton, who in 2009 won the Cannes Camera d’Or with his debut “Samson and Delilah” but has since been under the radar; “Angels Wear White,” directed by China’s relatively unknown Vivian Qu, another second feature; and even a first work, French newcomer Xavier Legrand’s divorce drama “Jusqu’a la garde.”

In a spirit of renewal, 15 out of the 21 titles in this year’s Venice competition are by directors who have never competed for a Golden Lion before.
John Woo is back in Venice with out of competition title “Zhuibo” (Manhunt), a return to his crime thriller roots.

But the biggest novelty at Venice this year is a new competitive section dedicated to works made for virtual reality-viewing, the first-ever competition for VR works launched by a major film fest. It will be held in refurbished buildings on a tiny island a stone’s throw from the Lido that was a leper colony in the 15th century and has never before been open to the public.

Heading the VR jury will be U.S. director John Landis, who will also be on hand to present a reworked 3D version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” music video, which he shot. Venice will pay tribute to the groundbreaking video with a special event also featuring backstage documentary “The Making of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’” by Jerry Kramer. Both are financed by the Jackson estate to celebrate the album’s 35th anniversary.

Barbera says that the gala evening will include a party.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Gareth Jones

    Samuel Goldwyn Films Takes North American Rights to Berlin Competition Title 'Mr Jones'

    Samuel Goldwyn Films has taken North American rights on Agnieska Holland’s “Mr. Jones,” it announced Thursday. The period thriller debuted in competition at the Berlin Film Festival in February. Set on the eve of the Second World War, “Mr. Jones” stars James Norton as the eponymous character, an ambitious young journalist who travels to Moscow [...]

  • Live Action Mulan

    China Uses Disney's 'Mulan' to Attack Hong Kong Protests

    Although Twitter and Facebook have taken steps to stop what they say is a Chinese state-backed misinformation campaign about the anti-government protests in Hong Kong, similar content from suspicious accounts continues to proliferate widely, some of it co-opting Disney‘s new “Mulan“ to try to discredit the demonstrators. At the same time, China‘s government-controlled media are [...]


    San Sebastian Adds Alice Winocour, Malgorzata Szumowska, Sarah Gavron to Main Comp

    The Darren Aronofsky-produced Brazilian title “Pacified,” by American director Paxton Winters, Alice Winocour’s French-German astronaut drama “Proxima” and Polish film director Małgorzata Szumowska’s religious thriller “The Other Lamb” are among the six final competition selections for September’s 67th San Sebastian Film Festival. Also vying for San Sebastian’s Golden Shell will be U.K. drama “Rocks,” from [...]

  • Jamile Wenske

    Jamila Wenske Leaves One Two Films to Head Achtung Panda! in Berlin

    German producer Jamila Wenske has left One Two Films to head Achtung Panda!, a Berlin-based film production company. Wenske succeeds former managing director Helge Albers, who left Achtung Panda! to become the new CEO of regional funder Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein. Wenske partnered with Sol Bondy and Christoph Lange to launch One Two Films in 2010. [...]

  • Tuva-Novotny

    Tuva Novotny Questions Monogamy in 'Diorama' Pic (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Actress-turned-helmer Tuva Novotny thrives on big challenges. Her feature debut “Blindspot,” Norway’s entry for the 2019 Nordic Council Prize, was shot in real-time in one take and illuminates mental health issues. Her sophomore mainstream Swedish pic “Britt Marie Was Here” –slated for a Sept. 20 U.S. release via Cohen Media Group –  [...]

  • Seizure

    Writer Megan Gallagher On Her Viaplay Supernatural Nordic-Noir 'Seizure'

    With outposts in Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, Miso Film has become one of the most influential film and TV outfits in Scandinavia. On August 19, the company’s Norwegian arm lifted the curtain on its series venture, the supernatural police drama “Seizure” by premiering the show’s first two episodes at the Haugesund Film Festival ahead of [...]

  • Thoma-Robsahm

    World Partners Board “a-ha The Movie” as Helmer Tells It All (EXCLUSIVE)

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Pitched at Haugesund’s New Nordic Films confab, Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s doc “a-ha -The Movie” won’t hit screens before November 2020, but an array of new production and distribution partners have already boarded the project. Clementina Hegewisch of Neue Impuls and Matthias Greving of Kinescope Film in Germany are now co-producing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content