Stars land in Venice for fiendish film fest

The Venice film festival kicks off Wednesday with the arrival of movie stars on water taxis for a dark line-up flush with fiendish tales of abuse, betrayal and survival.

Stars land in Venice for fiendish film fest
The film Gravity will open the festival, starring George Clooney. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Flickr

The world's oldest film festival opens with Gravity, a 3-D sci-fi thriller starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock as astronauts who are flung into deep space when a debris shower destroys their shuttle.

Other premieres are Parkland, Peter Landesman's re-creation of John F. Kennedy's assassination and David Gordon Green's brutal Joe with Nicholas Cage as a violent ex-con who teams up with a homeless teen.

"This festival draws its strength from the risks it takes," this year's jury president, Oscar-winning Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, said at a canalside cocktail party on the eve of the opening ceremony.

Gondoliers could be seen shipping silver screen stars to Venice's Lido island where the 70th edition of the festival will run to September 7th, accompanied by a plethora of luxury yacht parties and beach soirees.

Paparazzi were doused in sea spray as speed boats whipped past the shore of the Lido and starlets lounged in the Italian sun.

Alongside Clooney, Bullock and Cage, red carpet stars will include Scarlett Johansson, Matt Damon, Zac Efron and South Korea's Kim Ki-duk whose grim morality tale Pieta won the Golden Lion prize last year.

Twenty films are up for the Lion this year.

The jury is headed up by Bertolucci, best known for his raunchy 1972 Last Tango in Paris, and includes British director Andrea Arnold (Red Road) and German actress Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others).

British and American flicks dominate, with the return of the family as the vessel for social, political and economic crisis, from child abuse and abductions to absent fathers and marriage breakdowns.

The total 53 films screening reflect a "dark and violent reality" with filmmakers "not giving any signs of optimism", festival director Alberto Barbera said.

Among the most harrowing will be James Franco's Child of God, an adaptation of a Cormac McCarthy novel about a cave dweller who rejects the social order and ends up slaughtering women to have sex with their corpses.

The squeamish will also be tested by Jonathan Glazer's Under the Skin, in which Johansson stars as an alien who hunts down and devours unwitting hikers.

Monty Python star Terry Gilliam's drama The Zero Theorem is unlikely to lift the mood, with its bleak tale of solitude and madness centred around a race to decode a mathematical formula to discover whether life has any meaning.

For the first time, two documentaries will also be running for the top prize: American Errol Morris's The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld  and Italian Gianfranco Rosi's Sacro GRA about Rome's ring road.

"We've learnt that the distinction between fiction and documentaries belongs to the past, modern cinema moves constantly between the two," Barbera said.

Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki is also in the running with The Wind Rises, a World War II story adapted from Miyazaki's own manga.    

Taipei-based director Tsai Ming-liang brings the only Chinese-language work to the competition with Stray Dogs about a family living on the margins.

Italian theatre-director Emma Dante is competing for the Lion with a debut, A Street in Palermo. A tale about a female feud in Sicily, it is also one of nine films vying for the Queer Lion award.

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Italy to pay €57m compensation over Venice cruise ship ban

The Italian government announced on Friday it would pay 57.5 million euros in compensation to cruise companies affected by the decision to ban large ships from Venice's fragile lagoon.

A cruise ship in St Mark's Basin, Venice.
The decision to limit cruise ship access to the Venice lagoon has come at a cost. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The new rules, which took effect in August, followed years of warnings that the giant floating hotels risked causing irreparable damage to the lagoon city, a UNESCO world heritage site.

READ ALSO: Venice bans large cruise ships from centre after Unesco threat of ‘endangered’ status

Some 30 million euros has been allocated for 2021 for shipping companies who incurred costs in “rescheduling routes and refunding passengers who cancelled trips”, the infrastructure ministry said in a statement.

A further 27.5 million euros – five million this year and the rest in 2022 – was allocated for the terminal operator and related companies, it said.

The decision to ban large cruise ships from the centre of Venice in July came just days before a meeting of the UN’s cultural organisation Unesco, which had proposed adding Venice to a list of endangered heritage sites over inaction on cruise ships.

READ ALSO: Is Venice really banning cruise ships from its lagoon?

Under the government’s plan, cruise ships will not be banned from Venice altogether but the biggest vessels will no longer be able to pass through St Mark’s Basin, St Mark’s Canal or the Giudecca Canal. Instead, they’ll be diverted to the industrial port at Marghera.

But critics of the plan point out that Marghera – which is on the mainland, as opposed to the passenger terminal located in the islands – is still within the Venice lagoon.

Some aspects of the plan remain unclear, as infrastructure at Marghera is still being built. Meanwhile, smaller cruise liners are still allowed through St Mark’s and the Giudecca canals.

Cruise ships provide a huge economic boost to Venice, but activists and residents say the ships contribute to problems caused by ‘overtourism’ and cause large waves that undermine the city’s foundations and harm the fragile ecosystem of its lagoon.