Some people say that “history runs, cinema walks, and festivals mark time.” This cruel synthesis summarizes a certain widespread impatience with contemporary cinema and with what, until a short while ago, had been considered invaluable opportunities for promoting new movies and meeting new filmmakers. There are greater nuances in Paul Schrader’s comment, “It’s a changing world. Festivals are both more and less powerful than they used to be. More powerful because they come across like the new museum and art gallery curators. Less powerful because the exclusiveness of participating at festivals has been weakened by new, direct channels of distribution.” This problem scarcely bothers the public, a faithful and constant presence flocking by the thousands to the large and small festivals that continue to pop up here and there, often replacing events whose life cycle has come to an end.
However, with a touch of pride it can be claimed that, while this year’s Venice Film Festival might not provide any answers, it does supply a few indications as to why festivals are still necessary and how they can adapt themselves to this new situation. In drawing up the list of films to offer our audience this year, we have tried to keep in mind the growing fragmentation and schizophrenia that seems to affect the universe of images in motion. These images are characterized by progressively contrasting production methods and by no means coherent models of reference; they explore the new potential offered by digital technology and are open to experimentation with new distribution and promotional platforms. But festivals are still burdened by economic complications, by the reduction of financial resources which once seemed almost unlimited, by new promotional strategies, and by the difficulty of overcoming the opaque resistance of the world of communication.
The Festival’s four sections – Competition, Out of Competition, Orizzonti, and Venezia Classici – are like a snapshot of the present state of contemporary cinema: intentionally stratified and varied.
There are established filmmakers whose participation is both proper and logical, since they represent the reason we love cinema and serve as a guarantee of its continuity.
There are debut directors and those in search of that hoped-for triumph, to which the Festival can contribute, sometimes decisively so, thanks to the prestige and the authority conferred by its selections.
There are the so-called genre films, for which no form of bias can exist but which are not always easy to position within the programming of important festivals.
There are documentaries, which are progressively gaining importance in the Festival’s scheduling, to the point that two are participating in the Venice 70 Competition. This “first time ever” is not only in recognition of the quality of these films, but of modern cinema’s gradual overlapping between fiction films and documentaries, a sign of an acknowledged identity that reflects shared creative processes. This is also an indication of aesthetic and linguistic enrichment, which appears to be to the benefit of all.
There are restored films and documentaries about cinema which indicate the growing importance of investments (in every sense of the word: cultural, aesthetic, emotional, distributing) in the immense patrimony and heritage of the cinema of the past, bringing it back into circulation to nourish the knowledge of young spectators, encourage the vocation of new directors, and enhance our education with cultural and linguistic reference points that should not be disregarded.
There are shorts, a valuable training ground for the filmmakers of tomorrow, to which the Festival has always ascribed the same artistic dignity as feature films, not confining them within a “reserve” but inserting them with full rights in the programming of the Orizzonti section.
There is the Film Market, improved and enlarged, with more services and areas at the disposal of commercial professionals, after the gratifying reception the first Market received last year.
And then, there is the Sala Web, the web theatre that was launched last year and that offers the virtual audience of the web the opportunity to watch, in streaming, the films of the Orizzonti section simultaneously with their official presentation at the Lido.
And, of course, there are also new entries. The first is represented by the three feature films made in conjunction with Biennale College Cinema, the project that supports, develops, and finances first films. The project was launched last year and is now concluding its first edition with concrete and positive results. The names of the twelve filmmakers selected for the second edition will be announced during the Festival.
The second new entry is the special project Final Cut in Venice, which provides economic support for the post-production of four African films which will be chosen during a special Film Market workshop reserved to producers, buyers, distributors, and programmers of international festivals, in order to encourage possible coproduction partnerships and market access.
The Venice Film Festival is turning seventy, the first time in the history of the Seventh Art that a festival has achieved this venerable age. This birthday will be celebrated in an imaginative way, thanks to the contribution of seventy filmmakers from all over the world who have accepted our invitation to make a micro-film lasting between 60 and 90 seconds. All these films will be projected during the Festival, and can be watched in streaming on the special website that has been created by the Biennale di Venezia, as can forty clips from historical newsreels that have been chosen and restored by the Istituto Luce Film Archives.
Thus, the past and the future of cinema symbolically join hands, in an edition of the Festival that looks to the future, in the conviction that its mission is far from over.