Watching Excellent Films on the Lido at My First Venice Film Festival
by Alex Billington
September 1, 2017
My goodness, this is a beautiful place. I am currently in Venice attending the Venice Film Festival, aka Venezia 74, for my very first time. After nine years in a row attending the Telluride Film Festival, I decided to switch things up and head down to Venice. Honestly, the main reason is that I could not afford the cost of going to Telluride. Now that I live in Berlin, the total cost of flying back, staying in the city, and buying a badge was just too much. As crazy as it sounds, flying down to Venice and attending this festival is actually cheaper. Telluride and Venice both take place at the same time, and they both play many of the same films. But they take place on opposite sides of the world so I had to choose one or the other. But it doesn't matter, you can watch great movies anywhere around the world and I'm lucky to be able to enjoy this lovely festival.
I arrived in Venice on Wednesday (the very first day of the fest), and I've already seen nine films so far. It's only been three days, but I can already say I am extremely happy with my decision to come here. It's so utterly gorgeous, the city of Venice is jaw-dropping stunning, and the fact that I get to see some of the best films of the year here only makes it even better. The festival takes place on a separate island known as the Lido. It's a 20 minute boat ride away, which is bit funny, because in Telluride there's a 20 minute gondola you have to take up and over a mountain to get to one of the main screening venues. So at both festivals I take a 20 minute ride to/from where I'm staying and during each journey get a nice moment of relief, a few breaths of fresh (sea here, mountain there) air. And, oh yeah, have I mentioned how great the movies are?
Compared to the Cannes Film Festival, Venice is surprisingly much more relaxed. Cannes is craziness non-stop, with crowds of people everywhere all over the streets. Venice is crowded, but not as crowded, and it's easy to get into screenings. I guess half of the world's press are preparing to go to the Toronto Film Festival (or they're in Telluride) and so it's a different group, without as many people. I was expecting it to be as bad as Cannes, but thankfully it's not. Which is a great relief considering I just want to see some films here and not be bothered by queuing hours early or pushing my way through thick crowds just to get coffee. I don't need the stress, especially for my first time, and most of all I prefer to watch movies without feeling upset or flustered. Yes, I'm super tired, but that's normal for a film festival. Part of the typical festival endurance test.
The life of a film critic/writer at a festival involves waking up at 7AM in order to make it to the first 8:30AM screening. That's followed by another screening right away. Depending on the schedule, I either then have time for lunch and a break, or I go and get in another line again. There's always another film at the end of the day and then somehow I make it back and write a few words before passing out and repeating this for 10 days in total. Today I saw 4 films in total: Samuel Maoz's Lean on Pete in the morning, followed by Ritesh Batra's Our Souls at Night, then S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99, ending with Samuel Maoz's Foxtrot in the evening. I'm most excited to see Darren Aronofsky's Mother!, but it doesn't premiere here in Venice until Tuesday morning. So a few more days to go and then I'll be queuing to catch that. Cannot wait.
I do realize how lucky/privileged I am to be here living this life, watching movies all day for my job, while staying in Venice for 10 days. But I'm also dedicated and passionate. I love cinema, and I've been writing about my love for movies for the past 11 years. I don't waste my time at parties, instead I spend all my time thinking about movies, and lining up for the next one, so I don't miss anything that might be a masterpiece. I do very much miss Telluride, and I miss the mountains, and all my friends, and the vibe of that festival. However, I'm just as happy being here. And I'm overjoyed to fully admit that, because I was honestly very nervous going in. I didn't know what to expect, especially for my first time. But – so far so good. For now I need to get some sleep, because I need to wake up early for George Clooney's new movie tomorrow morning.