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5 Lessons From the 71st Venice Film Festival

5 Lessons From the 71st Venice Film Festival

Digital rules all.

Golden Lion winner “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” was a hit in Venice, but it almost didn’t screen in its entirety when the digital file froze during an early screening. It was one of many indications at the festival that 35mm in its final stages. Only film only was projected on celluloid: Allan Dwan’s “The Iron Mask.”

Forget about the competition.

For more than a decade, concurrent North American festivals such as Telluride and Toronto have been eating away at Venice’s prestige and exclusivity. (Shane Danielsen outlines the festival’s growth as a discovery festival here.) To show the same films a couple of days in advance is clearly not proving enough of an attraction for North American press and industry members to embark on a transatlantic flight. Plus, important films that once would have definitely traveled to the Venetian lagoon first are now being programmed elsewhere (“Inherent Vice” premiering next month at the New York Film Festival, for example); others were inexplicably turned down because they were screening elsewhere (including Christian Petzold’s Toronto-premiering “Phoenix”). If the Oscar race has become the driving principle behind the programming of late summer/early autumn festivals, then Venice should step out of it and look for a different path to strengthen its own competition.

The retrospectives need some work.

Thematic or monographic retrospectives are the main attractions at bigger European festivals (for instance, Rotterdam and Locarno). There are even festivals that can live exclusively off of that appeal (Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato, which many cinephiles consider to be the world’s finest festival).

A few years ago, under a different direction, Venice hosted several thoughtfully curated retrospectives on Italian B-movies, westerns and comedies, which introduced lesser known chapters of Italian cinema to international audiences. But the Venice Classics section is now a random cluster of films with no editorial line to hold them together. As a result, several notable documentaries in the program went virtually ignored by the majority of foreign journalists and programmers in attendance. What was the point of even showing them?

The portrait of Italian cinema deserves improvement.

Venice may pride itself on being an international festival, but it feels predominantly Italian, both in terms of atmosphere and curatorial choices. National assets in cinema should be used to reach out to wider audiences, not to please the local ones. Why relegate Italy’s greatest living director, Franco Maresco, to a sidebar section? Why not to use the past fortunes of Italian cinema to relaunch its present rather than complacently celebrating its octogenarian survivors?  Doesn’t the country have new voices and fresh perspectives? (Answer: Yes.)

The marketplace is useless.

Venice’s market is virtually inexistent, but with so many new titles, it could benefit from encouraging more activity. It is telling that the official appellation of the festival is still mostra del cinema (exhibition of movies) while everywhere else festival organizers are looking to build stronger connections with the industry. At the time of this writing, “A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence” has no U.S. distribution. That will almost certainly change, but what about the rest of the lineup? The festival has a responsibility to its contents beyond their screening dates.

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