Magical musical to kick off star-studded Venice fest

A bewitching musical starring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone will open the Venice film festival on Wednesday, kicking off a US-heavy line-up of flicks vying for the coveted Golden Lion.

Magical musical to kick off star-studded Venice fest
The Golden Lion is the top price at Venice's annual film festival. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Damien Chazelle's “La La Land”, described as a tribute to the Golden Age of American musicals, reunites the stars, who appeared together in the 2011 romcom “Crazy, Stupid, Love” — but with oodles of singing this time.
This world premier of the tale about a struggling jazz pianist and his actress girlfriend is the first of 20 films in competition at the 73rd edition of the world's oldest film festival, which runs from August 31st to September 10th.

The festival's artistic director Alberto Barbera described the flick by the director of Academy Award-nominated “Whiplash” (2014) as a movie “that does not merely reinvent the musical genre, it gives it a brand new start”.
This year's line-up on the glamorous Italian island is notable not only for its A-list headliners, from Denzel Washington to Michael Fassbender, but also for the profusion of genre movies, he said.

Dystopian love stories, period dramas, adventure epics, revised Westernsand sci-fi thrillers are all showing at the Lido extravaganza, where Hollywood's creme de la creme rock up in water taxis to dazzle on the red carpet.

Virtual reality religion

And Venice will be the first festival to host a special virtual reality viewing salon. A 40-minute preview of “Jesus VR” will see viewers “experience” the birth of Christ in the first virtual reality feature-length film ever made.
The beach-side festival has restored its reputation as an awards-season platform by producing the last two Best Picture Oscars, “Spotlight” and “Birdman”, in a challenge to the mammoth Toronto film festival.
All eyes will be on the jury, lead by British film director Sam Mendes, for hints as to the next Oscar favourite.

Security is high at the venue, with road blocks and bag checks after the  summer's jihadist attacks in Europe.

While champagne corks were popped and canapes scoffed at luxury Venice hotels on the eve of the festival, the gala dinner on the opening night was cancelled as a mark of respect following a deadly earthquake in Italy.
Films battling for the Lion include Iranian-American Ana Lily Amirpour's “The Bad Patch”, set in a Texas wasteland and starring Keanu Reeves and Jim Carrey, as well as Derek Cianfrance's romantic period drama “The Light Between Oceans”, featuring real-life couple Fassbender and Alicia Vikander.

Cigarette-smoking pope

The pair, who famously met and fell in love on the set of the World War I period drama, play a lighthouse keeper and his wife who have problems conceiving but take in a baby girl washed up ashore in a boat.
Among the most anticipated premieres is legendary director Terrence Malick's 3D documentary about the birth and death of the universe. “Voyage of Time”, a project 40 years in the making, is narrated by Cate Blanchett.
Mel Gibson will be making his directorial comeback after a 10-year break with “Hacksaw Ridge” about a World War II army medic who was the only conscientious objector ever to win the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Former creative director at Gucci, Tom Ford, who wowed critics and the public alike with his directorial debut “A Single Man” in 2009, is back with “Nocturnal Animals”, starring Jake Gyllenhaal.
And there is already a buzz about the out-of-competition offering “The Young Pope”, a 10-part series by HBO telling the life of fictional Pius XIII, with a cigarette-smoking Jude Law as the first American pontiff in history.

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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.