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Venice 2018 kicks off on with controversy

The 76th Venice Film Festival (the oldest in the world) has gotten off to a slightly controversial start with critics citing the small number of works by female filmmakers and the participation of Netflix in the festival’s lineup. Festival director Alberto Barbera has been criticised for not scheduling more films from distaff side directors. Only one female …


The 76th Venice Film Festival (the oldest in the world) has gotten off to a slightly controversial start with critics citing the small number of works by female filmmakers and the participation of Netflix in the festival’s lineup.

Festival director Alberto Barbera has been criticised for not scheduling more films from distaff side directors. Only one female entry in competition this year. Barbera justified this saying that, “we choose films on their quality, not by the sex of the director.” 

Other criticisms was the participation of films produced by Netflix. This raised fears that people will not buy tickets to see new a new film in the theatre if they can see it for free on TV. On this, Barbera stated that he can see no reason not to schedule major established directors, such as the Coen Brothers or Alfonso Cuarón (who won Academy Award 2014, for Gravity) just because Netflix is behind them.

“The objective of a film festival is to show the best of what is available, not to boycott certain producers,” he said.

Despite all the talk surrounding gender equality in the wake of the #MeToo movement, Australian Jennifer Kent is the only female filmmaker selected in the competition of the Venice International Film Festival. It is the second year in a row that only a single woman is featured in Venice’s line-up.

Barbera said that he would “rather quit” than give in to pressure for a quota for women after the Cannes, Toronto, and Locarno festivals pledged themselves to gender equality. Barbera claimed he chose the films “on the quality and not the sex of the director.”

“Sorry, but we don’t buy this anymore,” said the European Women’s Audiovisual Network in an open letter earlier this month, adding, “when Alberto Barbera threatens to quit, he is perpetuating the notion that selecting films by female filmmakers involves lowering standards.”

While Cannes has decided to stop showing Netflix productions, the Venice International Film Festival is going in the opposite direction, featuring three films from the streaming giant in its race for the Golden Lion: the new film by brothers Ethan and Joel Coen (USA), titled The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, as well as works by Paul Greengrass (UK) and Alfonso Cuarón (Mexico).

The festival, which takes place from 29 August to 8 September, will also premiere The Other Side of the Wind, Orson Welles’ unfinished final film. Netflix acquired the rights to the material a few years ago and is set to release the completed movie in November 2018.

The decision to turn Netflix into a major festival player is bound to be a hot topic of discussion this year.

Altogether, 21 films are contending for the Golden Lion this year. The jury is headed by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro; German-Austrian actor Christoph Waltz is also among the jurors.

Along with the previously mentioned filmmakers, the competition boasts a promising line-up of award-winning directors, including French directors Jacques Audiard and Olivier Assayas, Italian Luca Guadagnino, Greek Yorgos Lanthimos, Hungarian László Nemes, Brit Mike Leigh, and American Julian Schnabel.

The young Oscar-winning director Damien Chazelle (La La Land) will be opening the festival on 29 August with First Man, starring Ryan Gosling. It tells the story of the first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong.

A German contribution is also in the run for the coveted Golden and Silver Lions. Never Look Away, by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck—who also wrote and directed the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others—premieres on 4 September. His new film is inspired by the childhood and early career of renowned German artist Gerhard Richter.

Minor sections of the program also include big names. A Star is Born, the directorial debut of actor Bradley Cooper, features Lady Gaga in the lead role.

New works by Serbian enfant terrible Emir Kusturica and Chinese grand master Zhang Yimou will also be shown.

Documentary stars also make up some of the highlights: Errol Morris will premiere his movie about controversial media and political figure Steve Bannon, while Frederick Wiseman’s latest work takes a look at rural America and its role in the country’s politics.

As a major director of post-war German cinema, Kluge could have just as well fit in the Venice Classics section, which shows masterpieces of film history. For the 75th anniversary of the world’s oldest film festival, masterpieces by Paul Wegener, Robert Siodmak, Alain Resnais and other greats will be celebrated.

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