The Venice Film Festival may be the oldest in the world, having unrolled its first edition in 1932, but in recent years it has been dangerously close to being eclipsed by Toronto which begins this year on September 10. A German journalist from a well-known publication -- who no longer attends Venice, but goes instead to Toronto -- feels that the North American event has much more to offer in terms of premiers and market than Venice.
So it has been quite a struggle for Venice to keep afloat. But happily there are signs now that the festival on the Lido, a long narrow island off Venice, is getting back into shape.
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The world premiering of Black Mass, the much talked about gangster film featuring Johnny Depp as James 'Whitey' Bulger, and the first ever screening of Beasts of No Nation, a war thriller set in Africa, are also works that are bound to up Venice's standing in the international arena.
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The festival's Director Alberto Barbera, told the media the other day: "I am pretty excited about the lineup. I got 98% of the movies I wanted. There is no need to hide the fact it is getting more and more difficult, but it is the same for everyone. The truth is that festivals are not an absolute priority for all producers, which means that some films simply don't show up anywhere, or only at smaller festivals that are considered useful for distribution reasons."
Venice has always tried very hard to get a great opening movie, a major Hollywood production, for instance. In the past two years, it has been very successful here: 2014 saw Birdman, and the year before that Gravity. Both won spectacular success, with Birdman winning the Best Picture and Best Director at the Oscars. Gravity garnered the Best Director Academy Award.
All these have added to Venice's clout. "Of course," said Barbera, "what I am looking for is primarily an opening film that can fit in the slot. Having a big Hollywood movie is part of the tradition of the festival, what our audiences expect. I don't look for a film specifically that will be in the running for the Oscars but I am pleased, of course, if it is. The most important thing is to be sure that it will play well in Venice, that it is good enough to open the festival. It sets the standard."
The next 11 days -- with the festival grinding to a halt on September 12 -- will tell us how high Venice has been able to fly this year.
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Venice Film Festival.)