Sunday , September 23 2018

‘Man’, ‘Star’ kick off Venice Festival

Women directors slam ‘toxic masculinity’ of fest

LOS ANGELES, Aug 29, (RTRS): With this year’s lineup, the Venice Int’l Film Festival has taken a quantum leap toward becoming a cinematic juggernaut, prevailing over Toronto and Telluride and giving Cannes cause for concern.

Vis-a-vis Cannes, the clincher this year has been Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera’s embrace of streaming platforms – especially Netflix, which has six titles in the official selection. But what’s really allowed the Lido to fully leverage its enviable start-of-September slot on the fall festival calendar is Barbera’s ability to forge relationships with US film executives – be they from the streamers, the majors or indies – as well as with top execs and directors who make quality pics all over the rest of the planet.

Since the first edition of Barbera’s reign in 2012, almost while no one was looking, Venice has become the festival that really kicks off the US awards season, having presciently programmed a string of titles that went on to garner multiple nominations and awards, such as best picture Oscar winners “Birdman”, “Spotlight” and “The Shape of Water”, not all of which were originally thought of as major awards contenders.

“Many of the films that Alberto has championed have gone on to enjoy success during awards season,” says AGC Studios chief Stuart Ford, who in 2016 launched “Hacksaw Ridge”, which garnered six Oscar noms including best pic, and two wins, from Venice.

“I’ve always felt that Alberto is like a partner who cares about each film, and that translates to the great atmosphere at the festival.”

“We’ve always thought Venice is a very important international launching pad for a certain type of film: the quality film with wide audience potential,” says Warner Bros Italy topper Barbara Salabe, who cites the Lido launches of “Gravity” and this year of the “A Star Is Born” remake directed by and starring Bradley Cooper alongside Lady Gaga. She underlines that Barbera has given the festival great luster. But for Venice it’s not just “the get” of a hot title or such a megastar as Lady Gaga, certain to spark a paparazzi frenzy.

“The extraordinary thing about ‘A Star Is Born’ is that you discover Lady Gaga as an actress … completely without makeup,” Salabe says. “It has a different intensity than a commercial movie.”

Furthermore, because Venice is smaller than Cannes or Toronto – Barbera slimmed it down – films really can have their moment there and are less likely to get lost.

Ready

Incidentally, the last time Warner Bros launched a movie from Cannes was in 2013 with Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby”. This is simply because “movies are usually not ready for Cannes,” says Salabe.

Key to Venice’s ability to lure the cream of the American crop is the behind-the-scenes work of its New York-based US programmer Giulia D’Agnolo Vallan, a journalist and author of monographs on directors such as Robert Altman, Clint Eastwood and William Friedkin. He is a former Turin Film Festival co-topper, who has forged longstanding relationships with US auteurs including Joel and Ethan Coen, Alfonso Cuaron, as well as indie and studio executives.

The Coen brothers will be back in Venice this year with their Western “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, while Cuaron revisits with “Roma”, his return to Spanish-language filmmaking. Both titles are from Netflix, which was famously shutout from Cannes this year because of a dispute over their films’ lack of theatrical release in France.

The results of Venice’s relationship-building efforts are on full display. Presiding over this edition’s jury is Guillermo del Toro, who won last year’s Golden Lion with “The Shape of Water”, en route to Oscar glory. Damien Chazelle is back with festival opener “First Man”, following his multiple-Oscar winner “La La Land”, which launched from the Lido.

Italy’s Luca Guadagnino returns with his remake, of sorts, of suspense classic “Suspiria”, an Amazon original.”Historically, Venice is always regarded as a bit of a risk,” says veteran British publicist Charles McDonald. “But if a movie goes from Venice to Toronto armed with glowing reviews, then you are in fantastic shape.”

McDonald notes that “the only false step in this day and age” in the Venice lineup “is the lack of women.” The competition and Horizons sections each feature only one film directed by a woman and they account for just roughly 20% of the official selection. By contrast, roughly a third of the films at Toronto will be from female directors.

The fest has pledged to address the gender parity issue, though it remains to be seen how. Coming to terms with this problem seems crucial at a time when finally, as Salabe puts it, “Venice is now recognized as a place run by someone who can pick out the movies.”

The Venice Film Festival was slammed for its “toxic masculinity” as it opens Wednesday with just one female director represented among its most mouth-watering line-up in decades.

It is the second year in a row that Venice has featured just one film by a woman among the 21 vying for the Golden Lion top prize.

Festival director Alberto Barbera declared that he would “rather quit” than give in to pressure for a quota for women after the Cannes, Toronto and Locarno festivals pledged themselves to gender equality.

But his stance – as Venice bids to rival Cannes as the world’s most important festival – was lambasted by an alliance of European women filmmakers.

“Sorry, but we don’t buy this anymore,” said the European Women’s Audiovisual Network in an open letter earlier this month. “When Alberto Barbera threatens to quit, he is perpetuating the notion that selecting films by female filmmakers involves lowering standards.”

Others blamed a streak of Italian “toxic masculinity” that saw actress and #MeToo campaigner Asia Argento pilloried in her homeland for accusing Harvey Weinstein of rape.

Barbera insisted that he chose the films “on the quality and not the sex of the director”, telling reporters that “if we impose quotas, I resign.”

He was already under pressure for including a documentary by Bruce Weber, “Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast” despite claims of coercive sexual behaviour by the American fashion photographer made by 15 male models.

Weber denies any wrongdoing.

Barbera also faced questions over his decision to invite disgraced Hollywood director James Toback to premiere his film “The Private Life of a Modern Woman” at Venice last year.

Toback has been accused of sexual harassment and assault by nearly 400 women, including actresses Julianne Moore, Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams.

“I’m not in a position to judge, to decide if James Toback’s behaviour was good or bad,” Barbera said.

“I’m not a judge. I’m not a lawyer. I’m a festival director. I knew Mr Toback and I invited him,” he said of the director, who denies the allegations.

“We will see if the courts decide if the accusations are true, and if they’re true he’ll go to jail.”

But even the row over women directors cannot take the shine off the way Barbera has turned around the world’s oldest film festival.

A host of Oscar winners over the past five years have been premiered at Venice including “Gravity”, “Birdman”, “Spotlight”, “La La Land” and last year’s best film, “The Shape of Water”. Its Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is the head of the jury this year.

Barbera has stolen some of Cannes’ thunder and its stars, with his festival’s timing making it a better launchpad for the American awards season.

Venice has also profited from Cannes’ feud with streaming giant Netflix, scooping up all of its films which might normally have been shown at the world’s biggest film festival.

Venice’s staggering line-up this year includes new films by Oscar-winning “Son of Saul” director Hungarian Laszlo Nemes, Britain’s Mike Leigh and Paul Greengrass, Chinese master Zhang Yimou, Emir Kusturica and two of France’s biggest directors, Jacques Audiard and Olivier Assayas, who would usually show at Cannes.

The Canadian actor plays astronaut Neil Armstrong in the years leading up to 1969, when he became the first man to walk on the moon.

Australian Jennifer Kent is the solitary woman gunning for the Golden Lion with “The Nightingale”.

The last time a woman took Venice’s top prize was 43 years ago when German director Margarethe von Trotta won with “Marianne and Juliane”.

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