A film festival is about more than just the films and the festival center. It is about the location, the journey, the experience. Here on Deadline we’ll be bringing you updates on what it’s like to be on the ground at the Venice Film Festival, which continues on schedule for a second year in a row despite the pandemic disrupting other events.
Tuesday August 31. Day 0 of the festival.
Call it the calm before the storm, but the Venice Lido was a sedate place to arrive Tuesday, with a day to go until the kickoff of this year’s Venice Film Festival. Most hotels, bars and restaurants seemed not to bother opening during the daytime for the smattering of festival folk arriving early. But the Biennale branding going up at the Palazzo del Cinema, and the barriers being erected on the streets adjacent, made it clear the festival was on its way.
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Organizers are playing things safe, though. In addition to establishing multiple COVID test sites all over the Lido, the festival has returned one of last year’s least popular additions: a giant wall blocking the red carpet outside the Palazzo, ensuring members of the public don’t bunch up and break social distancing to get a glimpse of their favorite stars. A smart move, perhaps, but one which can’t help but diminish some of the buzz of a festival red carpet.
Although that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of excitement brewing for this year’s event, which marks the second year in a row that the festival has gone ahead in-person, despite the pandemic shutting down, rescheduling or making virtual pretty much every other major film event on the calendar for the past 18 months. The lineup of films at this year’s event as is strong as it has ever been, and stars like Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Kristen Stewart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tiffany Haddish and many more are expected to descend. Not to mention the big Friday premiere for Dune, which should feature almost the entire main cast including Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa and the rest. It feels as though half of Hollywood is planning to show up.
And so, too, are the press corps, whose number does appear to have grown from last year’s edition, which slotted neatly in between pandemic waves but seemed to keep away those who weren’t quite ready to emerge into the wide world. During an exclusive window for the press to collect passes at the Palazzo on Monday, a surprisingly long queue formed as festival staff struggled to find their feet dealing with them. And of the big-ticket films hitting the pre-booking website up to and including this Friday’s premieres of Dune and Spencer, the availability of seats feels a little more sparing than it did in 2020.
Of course, this year Italy is being governed by the “green pass,” which recognizes EU and some other vaccination certificates (including the UK and the U.S.). You need to prove your status at pass collection, or else you’ll be required to take an antigen test (available at the festival for €15) every 48 hours. If you can show the goods, it’s loaded onto your pass and nobody will bother you. If you can’t, a corner will be snipped from your accreditation to indicate the need for festival staff to demand a test result.
And yet, confusion remains. One fully vaccinated Brit journalist was told to go get a test, and had his pass snipped, despite having the right documentation—he just happened to show the wrong QR code and now lives in that purgatory presumably until the festival’s end, or until he can find the right person to correct the clerical error.
But there are those here determined to return the festival’s old sparkle to the Lido. On the terrace of the Excelsior hotel, a small group gathered to gawp at Paolo Sorrentino, who was joined by the star of his new film The Hand of God, newcomer Filippo Scotti. A Netflix rep introduced us and they happily posed for a photo. And as they did, Italian actress Serena Rossi, chosen by festival chief Alberto Barbera to host this year’s opening and closing ceremonies, emerged from the hotel in a gown and traipsed down the beach for an impromptu photocall. It was a moment as prototypically Italian glamor as one could find.
Perhaps, as it was at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Venice will feel a little more like the world we used to know after all.
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