Venice Film Festival Kicks Off Star-Studded Anniversary Edition

The Venice Film Festival kicks off one of its most star-studded editions Wednesday with Ryan Gosling, Lady Gaga, Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix among the top talent expected to descend on the red carpet, as the Lido boosts its status as an awards season king-maker.

The 75th edition of the world’s oldest film festival is top-heavy with a slew of awards hopefuls, starting with the opener, Damien Chazelle’s space epic “First Man,” in which Gosling plays astronaut Neil Armstrong. The movie’s press screening prompted positive reactions, both on the Lido and on Twitter where, besides Gosling’s performance, praise was being lavished on Claire Foy’s portrayal of Armstrong’s wife, Janet Shearon. But critics have yet to weigh in, abiding by the festival’s new embargo on reviews until a film’s public screening takes place.

Gosling and Chazelle were cheered when they arrived for the film’s press conference, where Gosling revealed that Chazelle had both “First Man” and “La La Land” already on his mind when they first met years ago. “First Man” marks the second opening-night Venice bow for Chazelle after “La La Land,” which kicked off the festival in 2016 before sailing into the awards season and earning him an Oscar for best director.

A rapid succession of hotly anticipated titles will follow in the next few days, including Alfonso Cuaron’s semi-autobiographical “Roma,” shot in black and white; Yorgos Lanthimos’ offbeat costumer, “The Favourite”; Bradley Cooper’s remake of “A Star Is Born,” starring himself and Lady Gaga in big-screen debut; and Jacques Audiard’s Oregon-set Western, “The Sisters Brothers,” in which Joaquin Phoenix and John C. Reilly play two notorious assassins.

On a much less glamorous note, alt-right maven and former Trump aide Steve Bannon is also expected in Venice for the Errol Morris documentary “American Dharma,” which bows on Sept. 4.  The film stems from a sit-down between the conservative Trump campaign strategist and Morris, who previously turned his cameras on such controversial figures as Donald Rumsfeld (“The Unknown Known”) and Robert McNamara (“The Fog of War”).

Artistic director Alberto Barbera is being praised for assembling one of the strongest lineups of any recent major fest, following a somewhat subdued edition of Cannes, at least in terms of star power. 

But Barbera has also come under fire for selecting just one film by a female director, period thriller “The Nightingale” by Australian Jennifer Kent, for the competition slate for the second consecutive year. Overall, entries directed by women account for about 20% of Venice’s official selection, including the main competition and the sidebars, which is roughly the same percentage as the submissions made by female directors. 

The lack of female directors predictably surfaced at the opening press conference, where jury president Guillermo del Toro spoke passionately about the need for gender equality. “I think the goal has to be 50-50 by 2020,” he said, adding: “If it’s 50-50 by 2019, that’s even better.”  

Paolo Baratta, president of  the festival’s parent organization, the Venice Biennale, said he was open to checking whether the festival’s selection process could be biased, but reiterated that he is “against the idea that quotas are the solutions to fix film festivals.”

This year’s Venice’s poster depicts a young woman gazing at a screen through a globe rather than a lens. It is designed by Italian illustrator Lorenzo Mattotti, known in the U.S. for his covers for The New Yorker.

In contrast to Cannes, where Netflix titles were banned from competition because the streaming giant would not guarantee that they would be seen in French cinemas, Venice has embraced Netflix, which has six titles in the official selection, including “Roma,” the Coen brothers’ Western, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs,” and Orson Welles’ previously unfinished final film, “The Other Side of the Wind.”

Asked about the Netflix-Cannes controversy, del Toro said that the Venice jury would evaluate the films purely based on “what exists in that rectangle.”

As to whether there was a risk he could favor “Roma” by fellow Mexican Cuaron in the race for the Golden Lion, del Toro said: “I’m not dictator of the jury, just president!”

The festival runs through Sept. 8.

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