Italy’s Venice film festival a ‘sign of hope’ for world cinema

The decision to hold the Venice Film Festival despite the coronavirus pandemic is being hailed as a "sign of hope" for the movie world after months of closed cinemas, shuttered film sets and cancelled galas.

Italy's Venice film festival a 'sign of hope' for world cinema
The Palazzo del Cinema is pictured on the eve of the opening of the 76th Venice Film Festival at Venice Lido, August 2019. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The rapid global spread of the coronavirus forced major production companies to halt filming, and top silver-screen festivals to postpone or cancel their 2020 editions — including Venice's historic rival Cannes, usually held in May.

Despite Italy being among the worst-hit countries, with over 33,000 deaths, the director of the Venice Film Festival, Alberto Barbera, is defiant in the face of the disease, insisting the 77th edition of the “Mostra” will go ahead from September 2 to 12.

Italy has been slowly exiting its lockdown and organisers in the canal city are betting on a return to normality in the hard-hit north of the country by the end of the summer.

The first post-coronavirus festival will nonetheless have to adopt new sanitary and social distancing rules.

“It will be a unique edition. We still don't know exactly what we'll be able to do, but in the meantime are selecting the films and drawing up a plan to allow everyone to participate safely,” Barbera said on Instagram this week.

Giorgio Gosetti, head of the renowned parallel Venice Days competition for innovative or original filmmaking, told AFP it was “as if we were starting over again from 1932, when the festival was founded”.

“Everyone in the world of cinema… feels that right now the best place to celebrate, to show vitality, is the oldest festival in the world,” he said.

Barbera has repeatedly ruled out the suggestion the prestigious event could be held online, leaving film experts to suggest the number of films shown — generally over 200 — will be noticeably reduced.

Familiar scenes of throngs of paparazzi snapping photographs of A-listers on the red carpet and signing autographs for screaming crowds of fans are also unlikely.

Festival expert Angela Prudenzi told AFP that this year, “all eyes will be on the films, which is a very good thing”.

Rivalry with Cannes

What remains unclear is how the cancelled Cannes festival could work with Venice's festival — or step on its toes.

Guests arriving at the Festival Palace for the '70th Anniversary' ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France on May 23, 2017. The decision to hold the 2020 Venice Film Festival despite the coronavirus pandemic is being hailed a “sign of hope” for the movie world after months of closed cinemas, shuttered film sets and cancelled galas. LOIC VENANCE / AFP

Thierry Fremaux, the Cannes festival's director, has said he and Barbera have discussed the possibility of some type of collaboration, without providing details.

One complication for Venice, which has not yet released its roster of films, is that Cannes is set to unveil its own selection on Wednesday. The 50 to 60 films on the list will not be shown on the Croisette, but will benefit from the “Cannes 2020” label created after the cancellation of the 73rd edition.

Whether some of those films show at Venice instead, or bypass the Mostra entirely to premiere at other festivals such as Toronto or San Sebastian, remains unclear.

The Hollywood Reporter reported that Italian director Nanni Moretti's latest film, “Tre piani,” based on Israeli Eshkol Nevo's novel Three Floors Up, was set for Cannes, but will go to Venice instead.

Big US films that had been expected to premiere at Cannes — including Wes Anderson's “The French Dispatch” and Pixar's animated feature “Soul” — have pushed back their releases to later this year.

Where to watch

Traditionally held on the Lido, Venice's festival could include new spaces for film viewing this year.

Some have suggested that the Arsenal shipyards, where the city's famed art and architecture biennials are held, could be turned into cinemas, with only a limited, pre-booked number of viewers allowed inside.

Whether the film world's great and good will be seen this year nipping across the lagoon in speedboats or sipping prosecco at the festival's parties remains to be seen.

But Giona Nazzaro, a programmer who has helped revitalise Film Critics' Week, a Venice sidebar show, told the Manifesto newspaper that the festival going ahead provided a much-needed glimmer of light in dark times.

“That an industry suffering like the film industry is starting up again is a sign of hope,” he said.

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Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

After three years of toned-down celebrations, Venice's famous Carnival is finally set to return to its former grandeur. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you're attending in 2023

The historic Venice Carnival – a tradition which dates back to the late 14th century – will be back in all of its splendour this year as the upcoming edition of the festival will be the first one without pandemic-related restrictions since 2019. 

As the undisputed queen of Italian Carnival, Venice will once again put on a full programme of water parades, masked balls, fine dining experiences and street art performances spread over 18 days of sheer carnevale fun.

If you’re planning on taking part in the city’s Carnival celebrations, here’s a quick guide to this year’s main events.

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival will officially start on Saturday, February 4th with a night parade streaming down the city’s iconic Grand Canal accompanied by music, dance performances and light shows.

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

The parade will kick off two weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 16th) and martedì grasso (shrove Tuesday, falling on February 21st). 

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

What are the main events?

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned floating parade on Saturday, February 4th, and continue on the following day with another water parade involving traditional Venetian vessels and captained by the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat).

Apart from that, the Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will start on Saturday, February 11th. 

The winner of the contest will be announced in Saint Mark’s Square on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

Original Signs, a music and dancing show performed on six floating stages set within the iconic Venetian Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 10th, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

Original Signs will run alongside Original Sinners, a fine dining experience followed by a masked ball at the magnificent Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 15th century palace facing the Grand Canal which is also the current seat of Venice’s Casino. 

As with Original Signs, the event will be available to the public on multiple dates.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costume pose in St Mark Square, Venice

The historic ‘Flight of the Angel’ will not take place this year due to ongoing work in St Mark’s Square. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Aside from major events, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, will not be performed this year due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

The 2023 edition of the Venice Carnival is expected to mark a “final return to normality”, according to local media.  

And, with just a couple of days to go until the official start of the festival, it looks like the floating city is about to experience pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – current estimates indicate that around half a million people will visit the city over Carnival.

According to Claudio Scarpa, president of Venice’s Hoteliers Association, local hotels “will soon be all but fully booked for weekends”, though large numbers of bookings are also being registered on weekdays, especially those in “the last stages of the festival”.

Given the expected turnout, local transport operator ACTV will enhance their services for the entire duration of the Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

For more details about the Venice Carnival and bookings, see the festival’s official website