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The curtain opens on the Venice Film Festival despite Covid-19 fears

Members of the international juries pose as the 77th Venice Film Festival opens, on September 2, 2020: President of the jury Cate Blanchett and members of the jury Nicola Lagioia of Italy, Joanna Hogg of Britain, Veronika Franz of Austria, Matt Dillon from the US, Ludivine Sagnier of France and Christian Petzold of Germany.
Members of the international juries pose as the 77th Venice Film Festival opens, on September 2, 2020: President of the jury Cate Blanchett and members of the jury Nicola Lagioia of Italy, Joanna Hogg of Britain, Veronika Franz of Austria, Matt Dillon from the US, Ludivine Sagnier of France and Christian Petzold of Germany. © Yara Nardi, REUTERS

The 77th Venice Film Festival opens on Wednesday with strict safety measures in place for the industry's first international competition since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, with 18 films vying to grab the top prize and help movie buffs forget Covid-19 for a while. Australian star and jury president Cate Blanchett hailed the festival’s “miracle” organisation, with “less glamour” and “fewer stars”.

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At Wednesday's opening film, "Lacci" ("The Ties") by Italian director Daniele Luchetti, the theatre was just half full with journalists, whose temperatures were taken before being allowed inside.

On the eve of the annual high-profile competition on the Lido, dozens of red safety signs were unloaded and installed throughout the venue attested to the peculiarity of this year's event. "Anti-Covid-19 rules of conduct," read the bright, vertical signs. "Wear a face mask. Keep a safe distance. Wash your hands."

The sound of drills pierced the warm beach-front air as workers went about their last-minute preparations and journalists – all in masks – wandered the freshly laid red carpet, their festival badges suspended from their necks. "This year in Venice, they've confused the festival with the Carnival. We're at a masked ball," one Italian journalist quipped to his colleagues. 

One exception was Festival Director Alberto Barbera, tanned and mask-free, as he gave interviews on the red carpet about the importance of this year's festival. "I'm excited and I'm a little bit anxious," acknowledged Barbera, neatly turned out in a pressed blue suit despite the heat.

A ‘miracolo’

In May, Barbera made the high-stakes decision to go ahead with "La Mostra", as the festival is known in Italy, despite film festivals around the world opting to cancel, including Venice's French rival, the Cannes Film Festival. "We feel a responsibility to be the first. We knew Venice will be sort of a test for everyone," he said. 

"It seems a 'miracolo' actually and I've really been looking forward to this," jury president Blanchett told a press conference in Venice on Tuesday, using the Italian word for miracle, at a press conference. "The film industry, like all industries, has had supremely challenging months and will continue to as we reemerge," said the actor.

"We have to be courageous," she said, adding that she applauded the "infinite creativity and resilience" of those filmmakers who managed to complete their works under trying circumstances during the lockdown. 

For the past few months across the globe, most film production remained on hold and movie theatres dark due to the coronavirus.

Fewer stars, less glitz, but many films

About 6,000 people are expected to turn out this year – about half the festival's usual number – as border restrictions around the globe have limited the ability of many to travel. Most of Hollywood's A-list will be no-shows, with Blanchett supplying this year's star power as president of the main competition jury that also includes actors Ludivine Sagnier and Matt Dillon, and directors Joanna Hogg and Christian Petzold.

"It's a festival without stars because Hollywood is still in lockdown," Barbera told AFP. "Will there be less glamour? Yes. Will there be fewer stars on the red carpet? Certainly. But there will be so many good films, 65 from 50 different countries, a sign of the richness and variety of contemporary cinema." 

Eighteen films in the main competition will vie for the festival's top prize, the prestigious Golden Lion. Last year it was won by "Joker".

Provided it was done safely, it was now time for film lovers to be back in cinema seats, Barbera said, adding: "We're tired of seeing films in streaming."

Organisers are hoping they can safely run the festival – due to go on until September 12 – despite coronavirus cases on the rise in Italy and neighbouring European countries.

In one of the most radical changes, fans will no longer be allowed on the red carpet, where in past years they've pressed behind barriers hoping to get a photo or autograph from their favourite celebrities.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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