Venice Film Festival 2020 program announced: My thoughts

A partial transcript of Episode 20 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

Several film festivals have had to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic but the Venice International Film Festival looks set to be the first major international film festival to hold a physical edition since the coronavirus outbreak. So, the festival will take place in Venice, Italy, from the 2nd to the 12th of September and the lineup was announced last week.

The program is obviously not that Hollywood heavy as that of previous editions. This too is because of the pandemic and the ways in which it has impacted film production. But it’s also because so many of the big stars simply won’t be able to travel because of all the travel restrictions and so on that we all know about and are familiar with at this point.

Some film critics have, pardon the pun, been critical of the lineup precisely for that reason. Where are the big movies? Where are the big stars? And it kind of makes me sad to hear that despite the challenges that Venice has had to overcome, people would complain about the quality of the program simply because of the lack of A-listers who will be walking down the red carpet of the Lido di Venezia this year. If indeed, there is to be a red carpet at all this year. I’m not even 100% sure.

But here’s what I think about that. First of all, if I take a look at the list of filmmakers who will be premiering movies at the Lido this year, I see such names as Michel Franco and Andrei Konchalovsky, as well as Chloe Zhao in the main competition. And they may not be famous as Steven Spielberg but they are revered directors, especially among arthouse film lovers. Then Luca Guadagnino, Abel Ferrara. I mean, there are some notable names there indeed.

But aside from that, these destructors. It seems to me that they forget that it is the role of film critics at film festivals to make discoveries and communicate their discoveries to the rest of the world.

It’s far too easy to talk about a movie like Joker, which actually premiered in Venice last year. It’s obviously a bit tougher to talk about the obscure Iranian film that could end up being a masterwork of our time but would most likely not garner the same type of mainstream reaction as the Joker on social media. I mean, it’s not going to get you a tenth of the likes on social media.

And that’s what it’s become about and it’s the problem of art criticism as a whole. They’ll write about any little, stupid think that jokester Banksy does but won’t necessarily go out there and discover the art that’s harder to find. Most likely because it’s not going to get the type of exposure for either the media or the journalist. So, it all becomes this never-ending, self-service, vicious cycle that’s not going to do anybody any favors in the long run.

But I think the role of film festivals is yes, absolutely, to celebrate the art of cinema and offer a platform for those mainstream movies to legitimize themselves in the eye of the arthouse snobs. But importantly, it should also be about and is about giving arthouse and more challenging movies some type of exposure too. The pis, therefore, that some of the media that the big movies at film festivals attract will get those smaller movies a mention. Even when it’s a peripheral mention in an article that is 70% about the latest Marvel movie, it’s still something.

I for one am more conflicted about whether or not it was the right thing to do by Venice to hold an edition of the festival at all this year. On the one hand, I don’t think it will be safe, no matter what precautions they are taking. Like, there will be more outdoor screening sites and there will be temperature checks and so on. But I’m not sure it’s still going to be that safe.

On the other hand, I do also think that it would be disastrous if film festivals did not show their support and give movies a chance to grab the attention of film distributors and so on at this time of need. And that’s mainly for two reasons. One is that if they’re not exhibited, these films risk disappearing off the face of the planet without having been given a chance and the consequences of that could be disastrous for the global cultural heritage in the long run.

The second reason, very important, is that cinema is also an industry, populated by craftsmen and workers of the sector, many of whom have found themselves in financial dire straits as film productions have shut down all over the world. Many of these workers are also freelancers with no contracts, who are making no money whatsoever as productions have been halted.

And so, as I consider the challenges of a major film event like the Venice International Film Festival, I remember that it’s just a challenging year for everybody and people should be expected to do a little more than they are maybe used to, just to get by. Film critics included. If that’s what we gotta do, that’s what we gotta do.

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