As the Venice Film Festival forges ahead with plans to hold its next edition in September, there are still many uncertainties about the shape of what seems poised to become the first major physical film event since the coronavirus outbreak.
But one thing is for sure: organizers aren’t letting factors such as the social distancing measures put in place at the Palazzo del Cinema and other fest venues — as well as uncertainty about Hollywood talent’s readiness to travel to Italy three months from now — limit the scope of their vision.
“This year’s edition will probably be smaller in terms of the number of titles, but by no means will it be a merely Italian affair,” according to a Biennale source who reaffirmed that the fest in on track to take place Sept. 2-12, as stated over the weekend by Veneto region governor Luca Zaia.
“As always, the Venice selection will be absolutely international,” says the source, who is well-placed within the festival’s parent organization, adding that it will have “the same focus on films from all over the world” and also “presence on the Lido of international talents and stars.”
Variety understands jury president Cate Blanchett, who was revealed to be heading the jury back in January, is also keen to support this year’s festival, with hopes that Venice could be a much needed pick-up for the industry, as well as Italy.
It’s too soon to understand what will happen with the U.S. studios and Venice, mainly since Hollywood is historically reluctant to send a movie to the Lido sans talent in tow. But that’s much less of an issue with U.S. indie product.
“Should we be so fortunate to have a film in Venice, we will support it entirely,” says Participant Media CEO David Linde, who launched Alfonso Cuaron’s multiple Oscar-winning “Roma” from the Lido in 2018.
“We’re excited by new ways of innovating in support of our films and their festival premieres. It’s all about expanding the opportunity for a film, not focusing purely on the challenges, as real as they are,” he adds.
Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera this week disembarked in Venice, after working remotely for months from his home in Milan, to take charge of what is effectively a battlefield.
“I’ve been talking to Alberto and, now that the decision has been made (to go forward)…I found him very determined,” says Sky Italia executive VP of programming Nicola Maccanico, a former Warner Bros. exec with close ties to the Italian and international film communities.
“The world is split into two groups,” adds Maccanico, “those who are sticking their head under the sand and waiting for the storm to be over, and those who have understood that we have to help each other and we have to try new things.” He thinks that in terms of titles, Barbera will have plenty of great movies to chose from.
However, there is still no clarity at this stage about how Venice’s slimmed-down lineup will be structured, or what it will look like. Barbera’s decisions will be based first on how many films the Lido screening venues — and possibly at least one outdoor arena in Venice proper — will be able to accommodate.
Italy’s safety protocol for movie theaters, which will be allowed to reopen for business on June 15, and theoretically also applies to the Venice fest, is currently capped to a limit of 200 spectators per venue. But that limitation is expected to change.
Meanwhile, Italy on June 3 will open its international borders to travelers from the European Union, initially, with the travel ban for other countries expected to be lifted in short order.
Giorgio Gosetti, chief of the Lido’s independently-run Venice Days section, modeled on the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, says that as far as directors, talent, producers, executives and journalists are concerned, “We can expect between 30-40% of the usual turnout.”
Interestingly, submissions for Venice Days are roughly double what they were at this point last year, with 350 titles already vying for a slot, notes Gosetti. His biggest challenge “is to try and understand what this (coronavirus) experience can teach us in terms of renewing the festival formula.”
“Press conferences at festivals have become crusty affairs,” Gosetti says. “So it’s worth using this opportunity to think about different modalities” such as using digital for both film screenings for those who are unable to attend the physical fest as well as for press junkets.
In terms of selection criteria, Gosetti feels an obligation to make a selection that’s “aware of what’s happened to us…not just made in a vacuum.” This means, among other things, that he’ll likely consider taking works-in-progress, unfinished due to the pandemic.
The media presence at Venice this year is also a big question mark. As one veteran Italian publicist wonders aloud, “What’s going to happen with photographers?”
Without a mob of paparazzi, “Will there still be star arrival photos from the Hotel Excelsior dock going around the world? Can we really have socially distanced photographers? And what about the foreign press?” they ask.
Barbera in a letter sent early May to the international film community asked industry execs for their thoughts on online screenings and Q&A sessions with filmmakers to partly replace or give more visibility to live events, such as press screenings and conferences, meetings and panels.
Before committing to Venice, most international sales companies are waiting to see how things shape up in June after Cannes announces the films under the Cannes 2020 label, a few of which may play in Venice as a gesture of solidarity, and after the virtual Marché du Film, which runs June 22-26.
Similarly, U.S. distributors of various ilks are still plotting their course with release patterns and awards campaigns up in the air. The potential Asian presence at Venice this year is also hard to gauge at this stage.
But according to Karlovy Vary Film Festival chief Karel Och, the European film industry is eager to attend Venice, though, “obviously it will depend on the kinds of signals the festival will send in terms of security measures.”
Och expects there will be reports in the next month from several European countries on the numbers of moviegoers emerging after lockdown. “I think what works for Venice is that it’s timed more than three months from now and things are changing very, very quickly,” he says.
As for what the Lido line-up will look like, Och is sure there are a lots of great titles that are waiting to be premiered. “Alberto is an amazing programmer with great taste…He will always put together an amazing selection, be it with more American titles, or with less (of them),” says Och.
“For those who want to discover good movies, there will be stuff to discover for sure.”