The Show Must Go On - The 2020 Venice Film Festival is Underway
by Alex Billington
September 2, 2020
The show must go on… That's the classic show business phrase that really is the best way to describe what's happening this week. "Meaning that regardless of what happens, whatever show has been planned still has to be staged for the waiting patrons." The 77th Venice Film Festival kicks off today in Italy. Even though every other festival, including Cannes and Telluride, has been cancelled this year, Venice must go on. Even Toronto, which will have some screenings in the city, has shifted almost entirely online instead. But here in Italy, they're trying the opposite. Is it all about ego? Who knows… The red carpet is now sheltered by a giant wall that provides "social distancing" for the celebrities, but it basically just turns the festival into a private no-fans, industry-only event. Which may be for the better anyway? But is definitely a sign that this is no ordinary year for film festivals. Yet there are films to show, and they're still premiering for these two weeks.
It's a strange year, and a dangerous year. And I don't even know how to comment on all of this. Do I think this is the safest way to run a festival during a pandemic? Of course not. But do I have to be here anyway? Of course. Half the reason I came down to Venice is to get out of my city one more time this year. And because I don't think I will actually go to any other film festival this year. And Venice specifically announced that the films premiering here will not being showing online. Which means the only way to see them is to come to Venice and attend the festival. They've gone overboard with safety procedures: temperature check points, masks required all the time (they must stay on even during the film), social distanced seating, reservations required for each screening (which also allows us to pick a seat in advance from the social distanced seating chart), extra screenings throughout the day so they're never too crowded, hand sanitizer bottles everywhere.
Will all this make a difference? I hope so. Safety is definitely the priority, as it should be. I think many of us hope that this also won't get in the way of the experience of being at a festival. And the films are still the reason we're all here anyway. And while attendance is definitely down this year, there's still a fair amount of European journalists in Venice anyway. Which is both concerning (more people, more risk) and intriguing - did everyone else decide to come because they just have to be here and see some films? Many of us are excited to watch these new films and hope for something spectacular. Last year in Venice was a wild year - between Joker winning the Golden Lion, and Martin Eden winning over critics, and Brad Pitt stopping by with Ad Astra, and Soderbergh dividing audiences with The Laundromat. Venice has a long history – it's the longest running fest in the world, but only by one year over Cannes. It is clear that legacy still matters.
Speaking of films at the 2020 Venice Film Festival, there's a handful of them I am looking forward to seeing. The rest I'm not sure about yet, rather I will be curious to hear reactions to them first. My top priorities: Nomadland directed by Chloe Zhao (who's first film The Rider is one of my favorites); the German Antifa drama And Tomorrow The Entire World directed by Julia von Heinz (watch the trailer); The Duke starring Helen Mirren & Jim Broadbent directed by Roger Michell; a clever Polish dark comedy film called Never Gonna Snow Again directed by Malgorzata Szumowska (watch the trailer); Pieces of a Woman starring Vanessa Kirby & Shia LaBeouf directed by acclaimed Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó; and The World to Come starring Vanessa Kirby & Katherine Waterston directed by Mona Fastvold. Plus the strange new Quentin Dupieux film Mandibules, about a giant fly. For real - here's the first look. Why not?
As the festival begins, there are two things on everyone's mind - safety and films. If we can balance both of these, the festival will be a success. Despite the pandemic raging on, and despite the changes to the way the festival is run. I've already started watching films and the first thought that came to mind - I honestly don't think there's a lack of good films for festivals to play, especially because all the post-production can be done remotely anyway. And we really need these stories, we really need cinema these days. We really need that emotionally invigorating feeling of watching films on a big screen. It's an entirely different experience than sitting at home and watching all day. Online festivals just aren't the same. Yes, it's probably better to cancel a festival if you can't guarantee everyone's safety. But if you can enforce strict rules, and give us a chance to get back into what we love, it might be possible. I'm here to find out. As Joker once said: And, here we go…