Venice Chief Alberto Barbera On Lineup & Ending The War For World Premieres

Venice Film Festival chief Alberto Barbera wants to put an end to the battle for world premieres. The affable Italian, who announced the lineup for the 72nd running of the world’s oldest festival this morning, spoke with me this afternoon about competition among Venice, Toronto and Telluride for bragging rights to the first-ever screenings of high-profile films in the past few years. We also discussed the increased studio presence on the Lido, Latin America’s emerging industry, and why this year won’t be three in a row for the Three Amigos.

Barbera is so over the distinction of who-has-what-first that a decision was made to leave the term “world premiere” out of today’s press release for Venice’s roster. “We started this game of world premieres 10 years ago when competition became a survival game between festivals and everyone started to ask for them. I think this doesn’t make sense anymore,” he tells me.

Toronto had been embroiled in a well-publicized smackdown with Telluride over the past couple of years, while Barbera was shocked to find that some films dubbed Venice world premieres were sneaked in Telluride in 2013 before their Lido debuts. The battle has been on Barbera’s mind and is beginning to ease, but he’s keen to continue progressing. Before last year’s fest, he sat down with Telluride’s Tom Luddy to agree on a spirit of increased communication. Meanwhile, Toronto has relaxed its world premiere requirements a bit this year.

Black Mass trailer imageVenice does have world premieres in its lineup, however. Among the higher-profile titles are pics that could figure in awards season, including Baltasar Kormakur’s epic Everest, from Universal and Working Title, the opening night film (taking the spot reserved for Gravity and Birdman in the past two years). Johnny Depp’s Warner Bros drama Black Mass has the Friday night slot out of competition. Also in is Cary Fukunaga’s Beasts Of No Nation. Its world premiere status will be ensured by screening it on the first Thursday, a day before Telluride starts.

But, Barbera tells me today, “We have to stop playing this kind of game. Beasts will play 24 hours before Telluride, but what does it mean?… It doesn’t mean anything that a film is shown in Venice 24 hours before Telluride or two days before Toronto. This kind of thing is over. I don’t care anymore.”

He’s not going to go so far as to accept movies that have screened in other major European festivals like Cannes, but says, “All together, we should change a little bit our attitude. Black Mass will premiere in Venice on Friday and the following day the cast will fly to Telluride to be the Saturday night gala. Yeah, you can still say ‘Black Mass premiered in Venice,’ but then it’s a 24-hour thing. What’s the meaning of that?” (Telluride has not confirmed its lineup, and never does before the event unspools.)

“It’s much more profitable for everyone — studios, festivals, production companies, filmmakers — if we have a much more collaborative attitude to support films and filmmakers instead of making war.”

With the studios out in force this year, I asked Barbera if he thought Venice was shifting in that direction. “It’s a matter of the availability of certain films, and then of course the fact that Gravity, and Birdman last year, helped a lot to reestablish a sort of international appeal for Venice from the point of view of launching a film. But I don’t think it will transform Venice into a sort of studio department for the marketing of their films,” he laughs.

Of the selection in general, Barbera says there’s a trend coming from Latin America. “It’s really becoming one of the strongest contenders for a major role in international festivals and markets. In the last year, they made a lot of investments and are producing an increasing number of films, and now there is the quality as well.”

el clanPics from Latin America included in the competition are Pablo Trapero’s Argentine crime-family saga El Clan and Lorenzo Vigas’ Desda Alla from Venezuela. Out of competition is Arturo Ripstein’s La Calle De La Amargura from Mexico. The Horizons section has Boi Neon out of Brazil; Rodrigo Pla’s Un Monstruo De Mil Cabezas from Mexico; and Mate-Me Por Favor from Brazil. “We could have had more,” says Barbera. “We saw a lot of really good films. It’s really one of the most interesting areas from the point of view of emerging talent.”

One disappointment in today’s announcement is the streak-breaking omission of Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy horror pic Crimson Peak. The Universal/Legendary title begins its international rollout in October and there had been hope of a sneak screening — if only for continuity’s sake. Two years ago, del Toro’s pal Alfonso Cuaron — who is jury president this year — opened the festival with Gravity. Last year, their buddy Alejandro G. Inarritu did the honors with Birdman. While we knew Crimson wasn’t going to open Venice, it would have been nice to have del Toro in town to make it three in a row for the Three Amigos.

Babera wanted it, and says del Toro was keen, too. “We tried and tried and tried until last week,” but there was evidently concern over it being “labeled as a festival film.”

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