The stars are certainly aligning in Italy. As the Venice Film Festival prepares to kick off its 79th edition on Wednesday (Aug. 31), once again catapulting a strong selection of buzzy movies into the awards season race, its pandemic-driven “wall” on the Lido’s red carpet has come down after two years — just in time to welcome a flurry of celebrities.
Erected at the onset of the COVID crisis in 2020, the tall, dramatic outer barrier that shielded the Palazzo del Cinema’s long catwalk from frenzied fans is long gone, along with the socially-distanced screenings that limited seating capacity for journalists and the general public ( although online reservations remain in place).
Venice was the only major international film festival that did not cancel its physical edition due to the pandemic, and has adapted to the various COVID restrictions over the last two and a half years. This year, with international travel in disarray for most of the summer months, some feared that journeys into the festival might be heavily disrupted by delayed flights and missing luggage, but arrivals at Venice’s Marco Polo International Airport seemed, so far at least, to be running smoothly.
Getting into the festival’s main complex, too, will likely be a little more straightforward than in the last two years. On Tuesday morning, when Variety first visited the complex, there were no COVID checkpoints at any of the main points of entry. (Venice chief Alberta Barbera previously said that the festival would shed all its COVID restrictions.) Security, too, was only just being set up. There was also no sign of the COVID testing site by the Casino that was frequented by delegates at the 2021 fest.
More than 1,000 attendees are expected in the Palazzo’s Sala Grande venue for Venice’s opening night gala, which will be emceed by Italy-based Spanish actor Rocío Muñoz Morales. Jury president Julianne Moore and the main cast of Noah Baumbach’s “White Noise,” including Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle and Jodie Turner-Smith, are among the top talents expected to be prancing down the Lido’s now freed-up red carpet.
Meanwhile, boatloads of other stars will be disembarking on the Lido over the next few days.
“They are all coming,” says Barbara, who proudly points out: “So far, there are no defections in terms of the main cast of all the films in the official selection.”
“We were afraid that some top talents would be busy on a set,” Barbera adds, “but with some acrobatics we’ve managed to co-ordinate all talent attendance, at least when it comes to the competition.” And nearly all main talents featured in the rest of Venice’s official selection are also expected.
That means that Cate Blanchett is coming for Todd Field’s “Tár”; Timothée Chalamet – who is already in Venice – will be on the red carpet for Luca Guadagnino’s “Bones and All”; Mia Goth is expected for Ti West’s slasher “Pearl”; Penelope Cruz for Italian director Emanuele Crialese’s “L’Immensità”; Shia LaBeouf for Abel Ferrara’s “Padre Pio”; Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles and Florence Pugh are eagerly awaited for “Don’t Worry Darling”; and Ana de Armas is expected for Andrew Dominik’s “Blonde,” a reimagining of Marilyn Monroe’s life that blends fact and fiction.
Besides high-wattage stars, politics will also be on display for the paparazzi. A pre-announced flash mob is planned on the red carpet on Sept. 9, prior to the screening of recently re-incarcerated Iranian director Jafar Pahani’s “No Bears,” which is premiering in competition. The demonstration is intended to draw attention to the situation of filmmakers arrested or imprisoned around the world, in particular to Panahi and other persecuted Iranian directors.
Recently appointed Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences CEO Bil Kramer will also be at Venice, along with other Academy senior leaders, in what is being touted as the first time an official AMPAS delegation is making the trek to the Lido.
Meanwhile on the industry side, more than 1,600 industry execs are already registered at Venice’s informal market, which is called the Venice Production Bridge.
This figure does not include some 700 industry folks who are making the trek as part of film delegations. “It looks like we will be close to an overall industry presence back to the [pre-pandemic] 2019 level,” says Venice Production Bridge chief Pascal Diot, who estimates a roughly 30% increase compared to last year.
Diot notes, however, that there is still a scarcity of Asian executives at the market, as is the case at the festival even in terms of movies this year. There is also a reduced Latin American presence compared to Venice’s pre-pandemic editions.
The Venice Film Festival runs from Aug. Sept. 31 10.