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.
Friday September 3. Day 3 of the festival.
The Venice Film Festival is well underway and buzz has been strong following the launches of a number of anticipated movies. But in the age of Covid, ticketing has been a recurring issue for journalists on the ground.
Attendees who made it to last year’s Venice Film Festival—the only major fest to take place on schedule and largely uninterrupted in the first year of the pandemic—had effused about the careful Covid protocols put in place to ensure a safe event. Capacity in screening venues was restricted to 50%, with empty seats creating a buffer zone around attendees, and people were prevented from queuing up outside screenings with the implementation of a digital ticket booking platform that took the stress out of securing a seat. The festival became the standard-bearer for how to put on an event of its size in the new Covid world.
The same capacity restrictions remain for this year’s event as the pandemic marches ever on, though the success of last year’s festival has encouraged more attendees to the Lido. The festival says that there are 9000 registered delegates in Venice this year, up from 6000 in 2020. This year’s number represents around two-thirds of the attendees Venice might have expected in a pre-pandemic year. But I’ve spoken to many festivalgoers reporting problems booking tickets for screenings—sometimes even minutes after they become available—and with the festival two-thirds full while its theaters operate at 50% capacity, it’s not hard to understand why.
That’s an especial problem for the next few days, as the festival’s first weekend encourages the most attendees to the Lido. Today’s hot tickets for Dune and Spencer have been scarce as spice, though returns for Dune at least did appear to be available for its two morning screenings when I checked at 7AM. Venice operates a tiered system for delegates in which red pass holders take priority over those with blue and green passes. For these and other screenings this weekend, some of those with the lower-tiered passes have reported not being able to book tickets at all, even if they logged on precisely 74 hours before the start of screenings, which is when the first round of tickets become available. The online boxol booking system puts them in queues only to come up empty. Movies screened in the festival’s smaller venues have been tricky for even those with the best passes to book.
I’ve also heard that even films’ producers have struggled to access their allocation of tickets, and a festival source reported that while their special access to the system has its privileges, it cannot muster tickets out of thin air for struggling delegates. Technical issues too have been reported, with a small number being issued tickets for incorrect venues, or having tickets canceled after they appeared to be secured.
These reports are often anecdotal, and many attendees who haven’t faced these issues say they prefer pre-booked digital tickets to the long and sweaty queues of old. Venice has also managed to avoid the serious traffic management issues of the booking system that plagued Cannes, which opened booking for an entire day of screenings in the early morning of the previous day, causing huge logjams that often crashed the site entirely. Instead, it has conjured some of its own issues despite the best efforts of organizers, who must navigate local Covid protocols and an ever-expanding pool of delegates as best they can, while planning logistics for a reality that is unknowable until the festival gets going.
This is a new fact of life at post-pandemic festivals, and Venice remains at the forefront of this planning, as it collects a second year of data with which to better strategize next year’s event. It, along with every other film festival that strives to preserve an in-person experience, continues to adjust to the reality that Covid isn’t going to disappear any time soon.
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