After a day of early press screenings and conferences, the Venice Film Festival officially was declared open this evening by the directors of several major European fests including Venice’s own Alberto Barbera and Cannes’ Thierry Frémaux.
But before they got to the stage of the Sala Grande, there was plenty to remark upon during the first evening of the first major film industry gathering of the COVID pandemic era. With deference to Verdi’s opera, this could be coined as the Lido’s Un Ballo In Maschera.
Attendees tonight walked a walled off red carpet, designed to dissuade the usual crowds of onlookers and autograph seekers — with relative success. Once on the carpet, the well-heeled guests were reminded by security to keep their mouths and noses fully covered with masks while a reduced corps of photographers snapped the arrivals.
Inside the Sala Grande, folks were placed one seat apart — the seats in the middle were strapped shut so there would be no confusion.
The proceedings kicked off with Andrea Morricone conducting the Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra as it played “Deborah’s Theme” from Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America, a film scored by the conductor’s father Ennio Morricone who passed away in July. A montage of the movie played in the background, including scenes that were shot here on the Lido at the Excelsior Hotel. A brief, emotional standing ovation followed the performance.
After an introduction by Italian actress Anna Foglietta, jury President Cate Blanchett ascended the stage and said, “To be gathering with you here tonight seems like a wondrous miracle.” As she had earlier today, Blanchett praised organizers for pulling together the event under such extraordinary circumstances. She noted that so-called “bigger films… often dominate our screens,” but that “film festivals can create an equally important sense of event” and that “each iteration of a truly alive festival must be in response to its environment.” She also said that given the current worldwide situation, this Venice edition could give “rise to voices that may not have necessarily surfaced in a festival like this.” The next two weeks will see “audiences reflecting back and looking forward.”
Tilda Swinton also tonight received a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award. The Oscar winner’s gratitude was “major,” she said. Reflecting on previous recipients of the honor, Swinton added, “I am a punk kid… hitching a ride to the station to catch a train to the foothills of the heights of their achievements. And, by the way, I’m only just beginning.” That was met with a round of hardy applause.
Echoing sentiments of many this evening, Swinton noted that being “in a room with living creatures and a big screen is pure joy” and that this “most venerable and majestic film festival is here to remind us that some things are going nowhere.”
Though she claimed words failed her, she energized the audience with a resounding “Viva Venezia, cinema, cinema, cinema, Wakanda Forever, nothing but love.”
Then it was time for the group of European festival directors to read their shared statement about the “fundamental value of cinema, and the role and importance of festivals in the support and promotion of cinema from all over the world, and European cinema in particular.”
Finally, a series of taped messages titled “Cinema Is…” was played with musings from the likes of George Clooney, William Friedkin, Millie Bobby Brown, Katherine Waterston, Todd Haynes, Samuel L Jackson, Paolo Sorrentino, Nadine Labaki, Saverio Costanzo, Jodie Foster, Elizabeth Banks, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Edgar Wright, Nina Hoss, Laura Dern, Isabelle Huppert, Ang Lee, Dustin Hoffman, Sofia Coppola, Jane Campion and more.
All in all, the evening went down passionately yet calmly. We’ll have more updates as the fest rolls along.