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The festival is a symbol of hope for a city hit badly by the coronavirus crisis, recent flooding, and lost tourism revenue. Photo: AFP
Like many other major events, the prestigious film festival in its 77th year faces challenges due to the coronavirus crisis but organisers say it will go ahead – with some changes.
In a chaotic year that has shuttered film production and closed movie theatres across the globe, the festival in Italy's beloved canal city will proceed from September 2 to 12 with 18 films vying for the top award, the Golden Lion.
The Biennale di Venezia, as it is called in Italian, has taken on outsized importance this year as many other film festivals across have the globe have been cancelled, including Venice's main competitor, the glamourous Cannes Film Festival on the Cote d'Azur, originally planned for May.
Auteurs with films in the main competition hail from Mexico, Azerbaijan, Israel, Russia, Iran, Japan, and India, among other countries, organisers said on Tuesday.
“Cinema has not been overwhelmed by the tsunami of the pandemic but retains an enviable vitality,” said festival director Alberto Barbera.
At the same time, he warned that some “spectacular titles” would be missing, still blocked by ongoing lockdowns around the world.
Even so, “the heart of the festival is saved,” Barbera said.
The Palazzo del Cinema at Venice Lido. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
Four of the main competition films are Italian — “Le Sorella Macaluso,” from director Emma Dante, who made her Venice debut in 2012; Claudio Noce's “Padrenostro” about Italy's wave of terrorism in the 1970s seen through children's eyes; “Notturno” by 2013 Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rosi, which was shot over two years in Syria, and “Miss Marx” by Susanna Nicchiarelli about Karl Marx's youngest daughter.
The highest profile film in competition, which has already got some Oscar buzz, is US director Chloe Zhao's “Nomadland,” starring two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand and Academy Award “Best Actor” nominee David Strathairn.
Opening the festival, but out of competition, will be Daniele Luchetti's “Lacci” (The Ties), a feature set in Naples about a marriage threatened by infidelity, the first time in over a decade that Venice's opening film has been Italian.
However the familiar scenes of throngs of paparazzi snapping photographs of A-listers on the red carpet and screaming fans behind barricades hoping for autographs from their favourite stars are unlikely to feature this year.
'Sign of recovery'
Fifty countries are represented in the festival, and within the main competition eight out of the 18 films were directed by women, a figure Barbera called “extremely significant.”
The festival has been heavily criticised in recent years for a notable lack of films by female directors.
The festival's president, Roberto Cicutto, told reporters that the 2020 offering “has not renounced quantity nor the number of movies in the official selection.”
“This is a sign of recovery… It's like a laboratory, a test of how such an important event can be organised,” he said, adding that safety measures would include empty seats between moviegoers, temperatures taken at entrances and online-only tickets.