PASCAL LE SEGRETAIN/GETTY IMAGES
PASCAL LE SEGRETAIN/GETTY IMAGES
No screaming fans line the red carpet. No one has camped out for days to get a glimpse of a superstar. No photographers are piled on top of each other at the Excelsior Hotel’s famous landing. And when one used to think of masks in Venice, it was images of baroque nights spent dancing in a 14th-century palazzo during the Carnival. Not N-95/M2, the surgical version. Having said that, the “Mostra” has indeed opened.
At the opening day press conference, wearing a mask - as is mandatory and heavily enforced everywhere - jury president Cate Blanchett talked about the challenges facing the film industry in the ongoing pandemic: “We have to be courageous. Every time one starts a project, whether it is in a pandemic or not, it always feels like the first day at school. All great projects have begun from ground zero. But I am hopeful because as an industry, challenge is in our DNA. If any industry is going to emerge more resilient, more creative, more inventive, it will be the creative arts and the film industry.” She added: “We have to reopen and reopen safely and tentatively. The film industry has had supremely challenging months and will continue to as we re-emerge.”
She went on to praise the filmmakers for their resilience and “infinite creativity” and said she had accepted to serve as jury president to support the organizers whom she applauds for putting together the first major festival in these difficult times: “It seems a ‘miracolo' really and I’ve really been looking forward to this,” because, on a personal note, she was “very excited to be having a conversation with adults, after talking to pigs and chickens” in Sussex, England where she had spent the quarantine months.
She also mentioned the absence of competition that had been a pre-Corona rule between festivals. Instead, seven artistic directors from European festivals attended the opening night as a sign of solidarity. Joining Venice director Alberto Barbera, were Cannes’ Thierry Frémaux, Carlo Chatrian (Berlin), Lili Hinstin (Locarno), Vanja Kaludjercic (Rotterdam), Karel Och (Karlovy Vary), José Luis Rebordinos ( San Sebastian) and Tricia Tuttle (BFI London). Some of their own festivals had to either cancel or go virtual. Blanchett arrived with her jury members Nicola Lagioia, Joanna Hogg, Veronika Franz, Matt Dillon, Ludivine Sagnier, and Christian Petzold.
vittorio zunino/getty images
The view of the red carpet is blocked by a wall, three meters high. Camera crews are few and far between because of social distancing rules. And masked guards are stopping masked guests and taking their temperatures.
Tilda Swinton showed up wearing a gilded style mask as a nod to the city’s history and much more in tune with the location. Onstage, the Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award recipient echoed Blanchett’s sentiments on opening night. She then spent large parts of her speech paying tribute to the wonderful Chadwick Boseman.
The opening night film is Lacci (The Ties), a marriage drama by Daniele Lucchetti. It can only be helped by getting this spot because the reviews are barely lukewarm. Marriage Story it is not. But then again, the festival premiere films are never in competition anyway.
There are no parties, the Excelsior beach is void of the enormous plastic, see-through tent that has blocked the sea view for years. No one is fighting over a Bellini or a seat or a slice of prosciutto from the buffet. Before and after the screening, some lone figures in tuxedos and gowns could be seen sipping a martini or two at the terrace bar. There will not be infamous afterparties over in Venice, either. At night, the city feels like a scene out of Don’t Look Now. Except it is not November, and the fog is not the reason for its emptiness.
The next ten days will bring socially distanced screenings and premieres, a never-before-seen number of female directors in the competitive sections of the festival, and talent in a good selection of films that are not drowned out by the noise of loud Hollywood productions. And therefore, a fairer chance for those who cannot afford big marketing campaigns, leveling out the playing field. The bigger question will not be answered for a few more days: as Venice is a Rorschach test for all festivals in the era of COVID, will it stay safe? Will Alberto Barbera be the hero, Italy a shining example of doing it right? And with that, a country is holding its breath while the world is fighting for theirs.