UPDATED, 3:10 AM: The Venice Film Festival has confirmed Deadline’s scoop from last week that Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born will world premiere there on August 31 out of competition. See below for the original story and a look at the increasing allure of the Lido. Venice announces its full lineup on Wednesday this week.
PREVIOUS, EXCLUSIVE, July 19: Multiple sources tell Deadline that Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born is headed to the Venice Film Festival. We have been told the festival will screen the Warner Bros movie out of competition as a world premiere on Friday, August 31. That will be one of several major awards films to launch in Venice, with the Yorgos Lanthimos-directed The Favourite starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz also premiering there along with Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma and Damien Chazelle’s First Man, which opens the festival.
It should certainly turn out to be one of the hotter, more anticipated titles when Venice formally announces its schedule next Wednesday — a day after we get the first wave of films from the Toronto Film Festival which has its press conference Tuesday. A Star Is Born is also expected to be listed among TIFF’s North American premieres.
The first screening of the film, Cooper’s directorial debut in which he co-stars with Lady Gaga and which he co-wrote, was actually held by Warner Bros for exhibitors Wednesday at the state-of-the-art Dolby Screening Room at Hollywood and Vine. Reaction from top exhibs was through the roof, at least those we heard from. One major theater owner predicted Oscar nominations across the board including Picture, Director, Actor and Actress, and big box office when it opens October 5. Another from a large chain said the film was “fantastic” and noted the sound in the concert scenes made you feel as if you were actually there live. He also predicted Oscar buzz for both leads and was particularly impressed by Cooper’s singing. Cooper appeared in person at the screening to introduce it.
Buzz has been steadily building for the film. Even Barbra Streisand, who of course starred in the 1976 version, has offered praise since seeing “parts of it” that Cooper showed her. “I’m really proud of him — he did a great job on this film,” she told me when we spoke last month. “I think it’s a story that works. It’s interesting to see my version, it’s interesting to see Judy Garland’s (1954) version, you know even go back to 1937 (Janet Gaynor’s version). The story works every time.” As the nascent awards season takes shape, it feels like Warners is going to be in it big-time with this rebirth that was produced in association with Live Nation Productions and MGM.
As reported yesterday, the upcoming edition of Venice that runs August 29-September 8 is shaping up to be another with a heavy major studio presence for Oscar contenders, with Universal having grabbed the opening-night slot for Damien Chazelle’s Neil Armstrong tale First Man, starring Ryan Gosling as the legendary astronaut who was first to walk on the moon in 1969.
In a testament to the festival, filmmakers have shown their appreciation for Venice by appearing in return engagements. Chazelle is returning this year after opening it in 2016 with La La Land, and we expect Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma (after 2013’s Gravity and heading the jury in 2016) from Netflix to make its world premiere (in addition to its New York Film Festival centerpiece slot, it will also be headed to Telluride we hear, a natural spot to also pay tribute to the director). Cuaron’s amigo Guillermo del Toro won Venice’s Golden Lion last year and is back as jury president for the 75th edition this year; Denis Villeneuve, Tom Ford and Terrence Malick have also had more than one film world premiere in the Sala Grande, and Stephen Frears is a regular.
This year should also see the return of S. Craig Zahler with Dragged Across Concrete. His Brawl In Cell Block 99 debuted on the Lido last year with star Vince Vaughn receiving strong notices. A Concrete media opp would see Vaughn in town with his Hacksaw Ridge director Mel Gibson who also stars in the film and premiered the latter in Venice two years ago. Another Venice returnee is expected in Brady Corbet, whose Vox Lux should score a slot. The film stars Natalie Portman who was last on the Lido with Pablo Larrain’s Jackie, which ultimately scored her an Oscar nomination. Another no-brainer for Venice is Amazon’s remake of Suspiria which has strong Italian roots since Dario Argento, director of the 1970 original, and Luca Guadagnino, director of the new version, are both from Italy.
Fox Searchlight, which saw its The Shape Of Water travel all the way from the Lido to the Best Picture Oscar, will be back again this year we hear with director Lanthimos’ latest The Favourite starring Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. The long-gestating unfinished film of Orson Welles, The Other Side Of The Wind, has also been trying to work out a Venice appearance, but nothing has been firmed as of yet. Netflix funded the completed film (shot originally in the 1970s) and you can probably be assured it will turn up in Telluride, if not Venice also.
So what is it about Venice? In studio distribution circles, Italy is notoriously difficult to program during the summer. But the end of summer has taken on a new meaning for Hollywood there as the festival has grown to become the global launchpad for awards contenders.
More favorably placed on the calendar than Cannes or Berlin, and running just ahead of Telluride and Toronto, Venice is seen internationally as a key arbiter of movies we’ll be talking about throughout the fall and straight into the Dolby Theatre. The festival’s ability to identify — and score — prestige titles that break beyond the traditional “festival film” label has grown exponentially. The annual Lido event is courted by the studios who see gold spun off that Italian resort island.
Venice is the world’s oldest film festival and has certainly throughout its history debuted major movies. But its current streak and overall reinvigoration is largely attributed to artistic director Alberto Barbera. He returned to the festival in 2012 after being ousted in 2002 when Silvio Berlusconi came to power in Italy. He has made nary a misstep since.
Under Barbera’s curation, such films as Gravity, Birdman, La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, Spotlight, Arrival and last year’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and The Shape Of Water have been key fixtures during awards season and account for three Best Picture Oscar winners among dozens of other statues in myriad categories and from various bodies.
Some have also reaped major box office success. While that may not be entirely attributable to a Venice bow, the Lido does offer a unique media opportunity that churns out indelible images of stars rocking up by boat to the fest’s main dock. Those are gorged on by the consumer press, helping to raise the profile of films and lend an air of accessibility to the proceedings.
Although some Venice critics will gripe that the fest has “gone Hollywood,” many of the marquee titles have been stories with global elements and/or impact. For example, this year’s opener, First Man, is an American tale, but its basis had repercussions for the world.
The event has also been very forward-thinking in a changing landscape. While Cannes, for example, grapples with shifts in the business (and is hamstrung by French law), Barbera has zoomed ahead like a vaporetto crossing the Grand Canal. He was the first major festival chief to include Netflix in competition with Beasts Of No Nation in 2015 (winning a prize for young star Abraham Attah that year). Barbera also has overseen the inclusion of a VR section, the first of its kind. And, before gender parity became the flashpoint for festivals that it has in the past year, Annette Bening was named jury president in 2017 to “break with a long list of male presidents and invite a brilliant, talented and inspiring woman to chair our International competition jury,” Barbera said last year.
Venice launched a market a few years back to muted success; the overlap with Toronto means it’s not a massive hunting ground. However, the agencies and studios regularly send scouts for finished product.
Barbera has previously told me he saw Gravity and Birdman help to “reestablish a sort of international appeal for Venice from the point of view of launching a film.” He also laughed at the time, “I don’t think it will transform Venice into a sort of studio department for the marketing of their films.”
The highest-profile movies that debut in Venice do not always win local prizes. Gravity was not in competition in its year, raising the hackles of the press corps, while Birdman and Spotlight left the Lido empty-handed. Del Toro’s Shape Of Water is the only recent Golden Lion winner to mirror that success at the Oscars.
To be sure, there have been stumbles. Last year was notable for opening film Downsizing, which was well-received locally, not breaking through. And, although his Black Swan had taken flight in Venice years before, Darren Aronofsky’s mother! was incredibly divisive in 2017.
As ever, the first few days of Venice this year can be expected to be frontloaded with the splashier titles which then make their way to Toronto and/or Telluride, hopefully leaving a trail of Oscar buzz behind.
When Barbera unveiled last year’s roster, he said he was “97% satisfied,” but that “all the films that we saw and wanted to have” were there. We’ll know his level of satisfaction on the 2018 curation on Wednesday, when the full selection is announced.