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Venice Film Festival 'saved' with focus on Italian fare

At this year's Venice Film Festival, there will be 18 films competing for the top award, the Golden Lion
At this year's Venice Film Festival, there will be 18 films competing for the top award, the Golden Lion Alberto PIZZOLI AFP
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Rome (AFP)

The Venice Film Festival will put the accent on homegrown Italian cinema in September among its eclectic offering of international films, as the prestigious festival goes forward facing unprecedented challenges in the time of coronavirus.

In a chaotic festival year that has seen the cancellation of rival competitions, shuttered film production and movie theatres across the globe, the festival in Italy's beloved canal city will proceed from September 2 to 12 with 18 films vying for the top award, the Golden Lion.

The films in the main competition include those shot by auteurs hailing from Mexico, Azerbaijan, Israel, Russia, Iran, Japan, and India, among other countries, organisers said on Tuesday at a press conference, noting that some were submitted from countries "still threatened by the virus".

"Cinema has not been overwhelmed by the tsunami of the pandemic, but retains an enviable vitality," said festival director Alberto Barbera, while warning that some "spectacular titles" would be missing, still blocked by ongoing lockdowns around the world.

"The heart of the festival is saved," Barbera said.

Four of the main competition films are Italian: "Le Sorella Macaluso," from director Emma Dante, who made her Venice debut in 2012, Claudio Noce's "Padrenostro" about Italy's wave of terrorism in the 1970s seen through children's eyes, "Notturno" by 2013 Golden Lion winner Gianfranco Rosi, which was shot over two years in Syria, and "Miss Marx" by Susanna Nicchiarelli about Karl Marx's youngest daughter.

The highest profile film in competition, which has already received Oscar buzz, is US director Chloe Zhao's "Nomadland," starring two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand and Academy Award "Best Actor" nominee David Strathairn.

- Paparazzi-free? -

Opening the festival, but out of competition, will be Daniele Luchetti's "Lacci" (The Ties), a feature set in Naples about a marriage threatened by infidelity, the first time in over a decade that Venice's opening film has been Italian.

The Biennale di Venezia, as it is called in Italian, has taken on outsized importance this year as film festivals across have the globe have cancelled, including Venice's main competitor, the glamourous Cannes Film Festival on the Cote d'Azur, originally planned for May.

Although familiar scenes of throngs of paparazzi snapping photographs of A-listers on the red carpet and screaming crowds behind barricades hoping for autographs from their favourite stars may be unlikely, the 77th edition of the festival promises to offer an wide range of film styles, including auteur films, horror and gangster films, documentaries as well as comedies.

Fifty countries are represented in the festival, and within the main competition eight out of the 18 films were directed by women, a figure Barbera called "extremely significant."

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