The Venice Film Festival kicks off in earnest tonight with the official world premiere screening of Alexander Payne’s Downsizing in competition. Ahead of that (and after the well-met press screening of Downsizing), fest director Alberto Barbera introduced this year’s jury president, Annette Bening, to journalists while both fielded questions that have recently become film festival staples.
Bening is the first woman to chair the jury here since 2006. When she was named president, Barbera acknowledged the lapse, saying, “It was time to break with a long list of male presidents and invite a brilliant talented and inspiring woman” to head things up.
Today, Bening was asked what she thought of the fact that there is only one female director on the competition lineup. The four-time Oscar nominee didn’t get too deep into a debate that’s been raging in Hollywood and one for which the Cannes Film Festival has been called out in the past. She said, “I was thrilled to be asked to be here. I didn’t count the number of films directed by women. I didn’t approach it that way.”
However, she elaborated, “We as women have to be very sharp and shrewd and creative about ourselves and what we choose to make.” She added that whether it’s men or women or newcomers, “most people struggle to get their movies made.”
But, she did allow, “There is a lot of sexism. Of course it exists. No question.” Yet, “things are changing. The more that we as women can make films that speak to everyone, the more we’ll be regarded as filmmakers. We have a long way to go in terms of parity in production, directors, writers, actors, actresses. But I think the direction we are going is positive.”
Barbera for his part was asked to address the place of Netflix in a film festival — the question that reared its head during Cannes last May. Barbera and Cannes chief Thierry Frémaux are good pals and Barbera noted that the upset caused by the Riviera festival including two Netflix pics in official selection was “a particular situation because of the French laws” which are rigid in terms of windowing.
Venice has two films out of competition this year from the streaming service but back in 2015 it had already put a Netflix pic in competition when Beasts Of No Nation premiered — and won a prize for young Abraham Attah.
Barbera said today there were “new realities” and “new technology” in the film business that festivals have to adapt to. “If Scorsese or the Coen brothers decide to have a new film produced by Netflix, I don’t see why a festival director should be the person to discriminate against these films and not have them in a festival.” It would be “absurd” not to have Scorsese, he exampled.
Traditional cinema, Barbera said, “will continue to exist, but there will be new things. We can’t in any way stop it.”