In late July every year, the world of cinema is abuzz with speculation. Announcements about what will premiere at the Venice Film Festival are seen as an indication of who and what will make a splash at the Academy Awards early the following year.
But our Venice Biennale and Film Festival tour this September goes beyond the gossip generated by who will be premiering where, as the event plays other, more culturally significant, roles. It is the oldest film festival in the world, starting 14 years before Cannes – and it remains one of the most prestigious. Indeed, a Golden Lion gives actors an almost unassailable reputation and directors an artistic credibility that is only matched by a Palme d’Or or first prize at Sundance.
This level of recognition is closely guarded. Twice in the 1950s the judges decided that no film was good enough and refused to award the Golden Lion at all. In other years, there has been such brilliance on display that an additional award has been made – as in 2017, when a Special Jury Prize was created for Australian director Warwick Thornton’s Sweet Country.
Golden Lions for lifetime achievement are similarly precious: indications about the sort of career one must have to receive such an honour are apparent in this year’s awards. One will go to Pedro Almodóvar, another to Julie Andrews.
Venice is also where Film Festival selectors from around the world gather, looking closely to see what they might like to bring to their own festivals in London, Adelaide, Abu Dhabi and Berlin, for example. Visiting the film festival is a great opportunity to take a first look at the films that people will be talking about for the next nine months – until Cannes comes around and the cinema year starts all over again.
We’ve invited Sarah Lancaster to join our tour of the Venice Biennale and Film Festival this year. Sarah has an exceptional knowledge of film and in the film industry. Her career has ranged from the coordination of the Adelaide Film Festival program to managing the Sydney Travelling Film Festival across Australia, producing film industry programs for the Toronto International Film Festival, and liaising with filmmakers for the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. In addition, she is a mentor for Women in Film and Television, and continues to work for the Adelaide Film Festival as a film selector, judge and producer of film and performing arts programs.
We asked Sarah about this year’s program:
The world’s oldest film festival will dazzle audiences and industry alike this year, with another exceptional program of world premieres and films heavy with award season expectation. Delivering a program of films from all around the globe, the 2019 program is packed with the best in cinema and screen content.
The festival opens with master Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first foray into French language cinema with The Truth, starring Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke. Hirokazu’s last film Shoplifters was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Language Film, following its Palme d’Or win at Cannes. The Truth examines family relationships, when a reunion turns to confrontation between a mother and daughter.
Hotly anticipated space drama Ad Astra, from director James Gray (The Immigrant), will be screening in the In Competition section of the festival. The film stars Brad Pitt as an astronaut travelling the solar system in search of his long-lost father. The cast – and potential star spotting at screenings! – includes Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland and Tommy Lee-Jones, and this tightly wound drama of exceptional cinematic quality is one not to miss.
Buzz is also building for Marriage Story from Noah Baumbach (The Life Aquatic, Frances Ha), which features Scarlett Johansson opposite Adam Driver in a portrait of a divorcing couple. This is a film with enormous star power and is expected to cause much excitement on the big screen, as well as the red carpet.
Other In Competition titles include About Endlessness from idiosyncratic Swedish auteur Roy Andersson; Wasp Network from multi-awardwinning French filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper); Saturday Fiction from maverick Chinese film-maker Lou Ye; and Pablo Larraín’s Ema, a follow-up to his Oscar nominated Jackie. Ema reunites Larraín with Gabriel García Bernal in a drama that sees a couple dealing with the fall-out of an adoption gone wrong.
The In Competition section is also an outstanding platform to see new works from celebrated filmmakers: this year the selection also includes Guest of Honour, by Canadian favourite Atom Egoyan, and the highly anticipated Laundromat, from one of the world’s most interesting and versatile screen creatives – Steven Soderbergh.
The Laundromat stars Hollywood heavyweights Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman, and explores the unearthing of 11 million files that expose the secret banking accounts of the world’s most powerful political figures. Also screening – and not without controversy for its inclusion – is the latest feature from exiled director Roman Polanski, An Officer and a Spy.
Female directors are again underrepresented this year in the In Competition selection, but the two entries directed by women are both connected to Australia. Shannon Murphy’s Babyteeth, a comedy about an ill teenager who falls in love with a drugdealer, has its World Premiere at the festival. Starring Ben Mendelsohn (Animal Kingdom) and Essie Davis (The Babadook), Babyteeth joyously explores how good it is not to be dead – and how far we will go for love.
The only other In Competition film to feature a female director is The Perfect Candidate, by Haifaa al-Mansour (pictured below). Originally from Saudi Arabia, Mansour studied at the University of Sydney before returning to her homeland to film her feature debut: Wadjda made her the first woman to shoot a film in Saudi Arabia.
The film also became Saudi Arabia‘s first entry for the Oscars, picked up awards all over the globe and screened to the delight of audiences In Competition at the 2013 Sydney Film Festival. Mansour now lives in the USA and has since filmed features there, but she returned to Saudi Arabia to produce The Perfect Candidate. The film tells the story of a young female doctor in Saudia Arabia who decides to run for office in a municipal election.
Other Australian content screening at Venice this year includes the short film The Diver, from directors Michael Leonard and Jamie Helmer, and Passenger, a 360-degree stop-motion project. This virtual reality film tells the story of a recent migrant arriving reluctantly in Melbourne. It’s the work of writers/directors/animators Isobel Knowles and Van Sowerwine. Callum Cooper’s Porton Down explores the experiences of a military test subject who unwittingly finds himself in a bizarre, mind-altering trial.
Other sections of the Venice program – such as Out of Competition, Orizzonti (“horizons”) and Sconfini (“cross-overs”) – showcase dramas and documentaries, including work dedicated to the latest trends in international cinema. They pay special attention to fresh voices and new talents.
As well as classic art-house fare, the festival will present significant experimental, TV and cross-over works. While the festival program looks forward to the future of cinema and screen content, it also looks to the past, with retrospective screenings from Bertolucci, Buñuel and Fellini, as well as other classic works from festival favourites.
With such cinematic richness on offer, and an enormous array of World Premieres that represent the first chance for audiences and industry alike to see new works, the 2019 Venice Film Festival is one of the most exciting moments in the global cinema calendar.
The program was hot off the press following yesterday’s announcement from the President of the Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta, and the director of the cinema department, Alberto Barbera. Now the world’s film media and cinephiles are busy drilling down into the program to find all the treats on offer! As you can see, these are just a few highlights, offering a taste of the projects attracting the most heat after the program release.
Academy Travel’s tour to the Biennale and Film Festival takes in the best of the Venice Biennale and a careful selection of this year’s offerings at the Film Festival. The tour is led by Dr Nick Gordon, who has led all of Academy Travel’s previous tours to the Biennale, and he will be joined by Sarah.
Dr Nick Gordon is a cultural historian and artist, with over 10 years of experience leading tours to Europe. He has strong interests in art, history, philosophy and architecture, from the ancient world to the present. Nick is also a practicing painter and brings this passion to the visual arts. He holds a University Medal and PhD in history from the University of Sydney.