The Venice Film Festival stuck to its guns in promising a physical 2020 festival amid a global pandemic, and somehow, it’s pulled it off. While recent COVID-19 shockwaves in Europe made the undertaking even more precarious, the early days of this year’s edition are so far meeting the expectations of its largely European delegates.
Elisabetta Segre travelled from Rome to Venice to support her brother Andrea Segre’s pre-opening night film “Molecole,” a deeply personal documentary about their family and its relationship to Venice that premiered on Tuesday. “I cried the whole time and it’s very complicated to cry with a mask on,” she says, laughing.
Segre, who spoke to Variety after a press screening of Italian director Daniele Luchetti’s festival opener “Lacci,” has attended the festival numerous times. “It’s weird [this year], but everyone respects the rules. You feel safe.”
The fest is “very well organized,” and its online ticketing system — which is mandatory to book all screenings, including public and press screenings, and even press conferences — is “much easier than in past years, because you don’t have to queue.”
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“But there isn’t the same atmosphere and there is much, much fewer people. When you meet someone you know, you just don’t know how to behave because we’re used to kissing everyone [so you say to them,] ‘No, but I’d like to!’”
The 11 a.m. press screening for “Lacci” — a rich, insular film that, fittingly for these times, centers on the turbulent home life of a Neapolitan family — was at capacity, with most delegates dutifully clad in masks and seated in alternate places. One man who had his face covering hanging around his neck was not unmasked for long before a security guard breezed over to instruct him to cover up.
Meanwhile, there are seemingly more COVID-19 signs than delegates this year, with boards containing the sanitary guidelines peppered up and down the premises. It’s not unusual to have your temperature taken at least three times on your way to various theaters around the festival compound, and guards and ushers are quick to demand masks in crowded areas.
Vienna native Daniel Morawitz, a part-time filmmaker and film critic, travelled from Austria to Italy by train — an eight-hour journey he says is more “eco-friendly” and a “much better alternative to the plane” during the coronavirus crisis. He’s serving as part of a 27-person jury for the Giornate Degli Autori festival, which runs alongside Venice.
Morawitz agrees the festival is doing a “great job” with sanitary precautions, but the ticketing system means “there are some movies I haven’t been able to book yet because they’re sold out,” he says.
Turin native Roberta DiMaggio has attended Venice for more than 30 years. The 56-year-old, who serves as a lawyer for an Italian production company, says organizers “have been very brave, because there are some risks. But it’s important to try to live a normal life despite the virus.”
She felt safe arriving by train and walking around, but appears slightly anxious at the prospect of stepping inside a cinema. “We’ll see how long the pandemic goes on, but I’m afraid that until they find a vaccine, people won’t go easily into a place because it could be unsafe.”
DiMaggio’s reservations about entering are felt by many at the festival. Chiara De Martino, a 22-year-old student at Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University, is taking advantage of a student discount provided by the festival, just as she’s done in years past, but admits she’s “a little bit scared because of the coronavirus.”
The quiet nature of the festival, however, assuages some of these fears. “There’s not too many people in the screenings, so I think it’s okay,” De Martino says hopefully. “For me, it’s really important to go to the cinema and see movies because it’s more fascinating than just seeing them at home, on your personal computer. It’s not the same thing. For me, it’s very special.”
As for the vastly European turn-out, most delegates, such as aspiring filmmaker Flaminia Trapani, aren’t at all bothered by the lack of North American delegates. Besides, she points out, she knows of at least one who will be there. The Sicilian, who has come to Venice for four years, has a friend from California due to attend the festival.
“He’s in Croatia right now; he’s been there for two weeks. He has to get his [COVID-19] test done to prove he’s negative before coming here,” says Trapani, referencing Italy’s recent restrictions for travellers from countries such as Croatia, Spain and Greece.
“It’s more complicated, but if you really want to be here, you can manage it.”