La Biennale di Venezia

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Introduction by

Alberto Barbera

Director of the 75th Venice International Film Festival

A snapshot of the present

The most common metaphor for describing a festival program is to call its collection of movies “a snapshot of the present”. In other words, it is a way to represent the state of health – or our impression of it – of worldwide film productions, in a precise moment and historical context. We can deduce how approximate this definition is by comparing a festival’s selection with its previous program or that of the following year. Different conclusions can be drawn from the different configurations of each program, and these conclusions often contradict each other and are occasionally glaringly wrong. A good selection (which, like a less successful one, is always the result of subjective choices and much conditioning), could give the idea that cinema is in perfect health. Or just the opposite, without either of the two conclusions being necessarily inaccurate.

Cinema as a collection of events

The fact is (to use the language of quantum mechanics), quite simply, the present doesn’t exist. According to post-Einsteinian physics, the past and the future no longer oppose each other (as was long believed), separated by a third time period which supposedly corresponds to “now”: scientists say this concept doesn’t mean a thing. “World events do not queue up like the British. They mill around like the Italians,” as Carlo Rovelli ironically noted. To continue the opening metaphor, we should probably note that the “cinema of the present” is a meaningless phrase. For example, there are directors and producers who continue to make movies the way they were made in the last century, and others who instead follow unusual methods, experiment with new languages and narrations, create new media. Not only should we accept the idea that they can legitimately coexist. We must. For the simple reason that it isn’t that things “are”: things happen. To quote Rovelli once again: “People can believe that the world is made of things. Of substance. Of entities. Of something which is. Which remains. Or they can believe that the world is made of events. Of incidents. Of processes. Of something which happens. Which doesn’t last, which is a continuous transformation”. Now, try substituting the word “world” with the word “cinema.” In our case, too, this change of perspective is fascinating. To consider cinema a collection of events, of processes, helps us to better grasp it, comprehend it, describe it. A few examples? If we stop believing in a before and an after, in keeping with a linear and progressive logic, we realize that it is useless to compare the cinema of the past with the most recent cinema (or even better, with tomorrow’s). It is useless to complain that today’s movies aren’t as beautiful as yesterday’s, as though some form of original purity had been lost through their diversity. Or to refuse to accept the changes brought about by technological transformations, the digital revolution, or changes in the market.

To take account of the events which are chaotically milling around

We must take account of the events which are chaotically milling around: we are often tempted to downplay this confusion, to address it with the tranquilizing expression “transition period” (as though we weren’t constantly transiting toward something else: other experiences, other images, other visions). And this might be the best description of the work which lies behind this festival. Other festivals might have different objectives: to define what is good cinema and what isn’t, for example. But what if it were more important to describe it, to try to comprehend it, to grasp its fertile contradictions and irreducible complexities, instead of establishing temporary hierarchies? To proceed by inclusion instead of dogmatic distinctions, to broaden our gaze instead of only focusing selectively, to go beyond the limits instead of raising barriers? Without renouncing quality, or better, without ceasing to constantly question what it is and where it resides today, in this present which they tell us doesn’t exist, in a universe which is no longer the past and not yet the future. Of cinema, of course.

Biennale Cinema
Biennale Cinema