US director Todd Phillips (R), flanked by US actor Joaquin Phoenix, holds the Golden Lion award for Best Film he received for the movie 'Joker' during the awards ceremony winners photocall of the 76th Venice Film Festival on September 7, 2019 at Venice Lido. (AFP/Alberto Pizzoli)
The Venice Film Festival will put the accent on homegrown Italian cinema in September among its eclectic offering of international films, as the prestigious festival in its 77th year faces unprecedented challenges in the time of coronavirus.
In a chaotic year that has seen the cancellation of rival competitions, shuttered film production and closed movie theaters 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.
Auteurs with films in the main competition hail from Mexico, Azerbaijan, Israel, Russia, Iran, Japan, and India, among other countries, organizers 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.
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.
The Biennale di Venezia, as it is called in Italian, has taken on outsized importance this year as film festivals across have the globe have been cancelled, including Venice's main competitor, the glamorous Cannes Film Festival on the Cote d'Azur, originally planned for May.
Although 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 favorite stars may be unlikely, this year's festival promises to offer a wide range of film styles, including auteur, horror and gangster films, documentaries as well as comedies.
'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'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.
Other festivals cancelled this year include the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado, New York's Tribeca Film Festival and South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
Cannes, the highest profile festival to cancel, will bestow a "Cannes 2020" label on selected films that would have been shown on the Croisette in May but which will now premiere at other festivals.
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