As the Venice Film Festival claws back 70% of its pre-pandemic registration numbers and lures a parade of Hollywood stars to the Lido, it seems festival director Alberto Barbera is right: Venice is well and truly back. And just in time, too. As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and BAFTA become more international, all eyes are increasingly on the influential Italian festival.
In taking the temperature of key European and U.S. agents, sales firms and distributors heading to Venice, Variety found that many seem to be riding the momentum whipped up by a successful Cannes. For the first time, Venice falls barely two months after Cannes, but rather than contributing to festival fatigue, the industry seems energized to carry on conversations begun on the Croisette while revving up their marketing engines for awards from the Lido.
Paris-based sales agent Totem Films has its first Venice selection with “Erasing Frank,” a black-and-white, Cold War-era drama about the charismatic singer of a banned punk band in Budapest. The company, which is just three years old, had a triumphant Cannes, where their competition title “Compartment No. 6” scored the Grand Prix (shared with Asghar Farhadi’s “A Hero”) and was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics.
“We all know the industry is at a turning point,” Totem co-founders Laure Parleani and Agathe Valentin tell Variety. “We have to adapt and the personal connection is even more relevant than before since everyone is overwhelmed by content. It’s essential for us to be present at key venues like Venice.”
Megan Crawford, head of motion picture marketing at CAA, says that although U.S. studios and indies have a bigger presence in the Venice line-up this year — compared to last year, when Searchlight’s “Nomadland” was virtually the sole offering — an array of global auteurs like Pablo Larraín (“Spencer”), Pedro Almodóvar (“Madres Parallelas”) and Jane Campion (“Power of the Dog”) sees international fare firmly in the spotlight.
“Without a super-heavy American presence, it could be a particularly impactful [festival] for the international films,” says Crawford.
“[Venice] has, without a doubt, taken a more serious place to launch awards films,” she adds. “‘Nomadland’ is an excellent example, but so is ‘The Shape of Water,’ which, of course, won the Golden Lion at the festival, released in December and went on to win best picture. It is an example of how the festival can eventize a film to member groups who may not otherwise watch a film until closer to release.”
Alex Walton, executive VP of film, advisory, at Endeavor Content, draws a link between bolstered Cannes and Venice festivals and the forthcoming awards season.
“Come awards time, hopefully this year we’ll be more spoiled for riches because both [Cannes and Venice] will be able to be better platforms,” says Walton. “And it looks like Telluride and New York are elevated again this year in terms of the movies playing there. Those festivals will help fan the flames that begin in Cannes and Venice.”
Walton, who is in Venice with Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter” and Mounia Akl’s “Costa Brava, Lebanon,” also underlines the growing prominence of the international voting members of AMPAS and BAFTA.
“What we’re seeing with a number of our movies is that Paris becomes an important theatrical screening venue. Streamers aren’t releasing theatrically in France, so they’re still really finding the right way to cater to that Academy membership there,” he says. “I also think you see the increasing importance of London for Academy screenings as well. The London Film Festival doesn’t have a market, but it’s an important journalistic stop for movies that are on that road.”
But what of the deals? The industry went on summer holiday after Cannes was done and dusted, but ultimately, the Pre-Cannes Screenings and festival didn’t produce the major, headline-grabbing deals that many were looking for.
One distributor complained that they found the Pre-Cannes Screenings “slightly underwhelming.” “It was definitely not as bad as AFM 2020, but after the whirlwind of the EFM [in February], which had such a great selection of mid-size to big arthouse packages and scripts to choose from, it felt noticeable that there weren’t multiple big, commercial packages available.
“Is it because so many cast are unavailable? Crew shortages? Or are shoot dates slipping and causing chaos and uncertainty for getting others off the ground?”
Thorsten Schumacher, the London-based CEO of “Mothering Sunday” sales agent Rocket Science, suggests the shortage of production crew in the U.K. could certainly be a factor.
“I said the other day that it was almost easier to make a movie during the pandemic than to make it right now because there’s such a demand for talent, crew, locations and studio space,” says Schumacher, who is at Venice with Ana Lily Amirpour’s “Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon.” “In the last six months, everyone was rushing to get movies through.”
Some of them, evidently, were successful, and will launch not only to the European crowd that has always graced Venice, but more buyers from the U.S. and the streamers. Netflix, whose Venice roster includes “The Power of the Dog,” will host an event for Campion’s drama on Wednesday, and has sent both film chief Scott Stuber and VP of international film David Kosse to the event.
“I don’t think any international distributor would doubt that the Netflix approach to the awards campaign is [not working],” says Endeavor Content’s Walton. “It’s very hard for them to argue against it now. It is a very important thing, clearly, for that company, and they put a lot of attention to it. They spend like an important theatrical release of olden times — they don’t limit themselves.”