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Celebrated South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho set an instantly positive and thoughtful tone Wednesday when he met the global press for the first time in his new role as president of the jury at the 78th Venice International Film Festival.
On a warm, brilliantly clear morning on the Lido, a packed house of film writers and festival attendees had ducked inside the Palazzo Del Casino to hear what the multi-Oscar-winning director of Parasite had to say.
“Because of COVID in Korea and in the rest of the world, filmmakers had a very tough time last year and this year,” Bong stated. “But in a way, looking back, it feels like this was a test, and what it has shown is the life force of cinema.”
He added: “As a filmmaker, I don’t believe the history of cinema of cinema could be stopped so easily, so COVID will pass and cinema will continue.”
Bong was joined at the press conference by the fellow members of his jury for the 78th edition of the festival. They sat socially distanced in the front rows of the crowd before him. “They all have their own creative universes and they’re all great in their own way, so I hope to bring them all together and have a kind of explosion with them,” Bong said.
Venice’s 78th jury includes Oscar best picture winner Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), French actress Virginie Efira (recently seen in Paul Verhoeven’s taboo-breaking Cannes-bowing Benedetta), Italian director Saverio Costanzo (Hungry Hearts), Canadian actress and producer Sarah Gadon (Enemy), Romanian documentary maker Alexander Nanau (Oscar nominated this year for Collective) and British actress and singer-songwriter Cynthia Erivo (Widows, Harriet).
Zhao’s Nomadland won Venice’s Golden Lion last year on its way to winning three Oscars, but she was unable to attend the event due to restrictions related to pandemic. Addressing the crowd around her, Zhao said that being back in Venice just a year later was particularly meaningful to her. “I was devastated I couldn’t be here last year,” the Chinese filmmaker said. “To come back — my first time in Italy — and especially to serve under director Bong and my wonderful fellow jury members, I’m just honored.”
Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera took the occasion to reflect on everything the European festival community has been through over the past two years.
“Last year, we really were in the middle of an unprecedented situation — not just for cinema, but for everybody,” he said. “So it was necessary to find a form of solidarity for the whole film industry, so this festival became a means to come together and share in the need to do something to support cinema authors and directors, and our industry as a whole.” On the 2020 Venice festival’s opening night, the heads of Europe’s seven major festivals — Cannes, Berlin, Rotterdam, San Sebastian, Locarno, Karlovy Vary and London — cast their usual fierce rivalries aside to come together onstage for an expression of solidarity for the global film community. “The pandemic is not over and we continue have to implement safety measure, which are cumbersome,” Barbera said. “But most of the great festivals are returning and this spirit of solidarity continues,” he added. “We have learned to reduce the competitiveness among us.”
Near the end of the gathering, Bong was asked by the crowd for his personal feelings and connection to Italy’s great cinematic tradition. He noted that he included a Gianni Morandi in his film Parasite, because his father, who passed away several years ago, was a great fan of the iconic Italian singer.
“Italy has such a long amazing history of cinema,” Bong said. “Just before, when I watched Alberto’s face as he spoke, in profile, you look like Federico Fellini — from this angle, he added, holding his hands in a frame to the Venice artistic director’s head, drawing a big laugh from the crowd.
Slipping into cinephile mode, Bong added that “Italian cinema has such a long history, and this is just one page,” rattling off the names of several dozen Italian directors he admires, beginning with the greats of thepast — “Rossellini, Fellini, Antonioni, Bertolucci, Rosi” — running all the way up to his fellow juror, Saverio Costanzo. “I’m also very excited to experience new Italian cinema from young filmmakers,” he said.
Bong’s “Venezia 78” jury will award the Venice main competition’s official prizes, including the Golden Lion for best film, Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize, Silver Lion for best director, Coppa Volpi for best actress, Coppa Volpi for best actor, the special jury prize, award for best screenplay and the “Marcello Mastroianni” Award for the best new young actor or actress.
They will pick the winners from a particularly strong 2021 competition lineup, which includes a slew of Oscar, Venice Golden Lion and Cannes Palme d’Or winners, such as Pedro Almodóvar (back with Parallel Mothers, starring Penélope Cruz), Paolo Sorrentino (showing his much anticipated autobiographical feature The Hand of God), Jane Campion (with literary adaptation The Power of the Dog, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst); and Pablo Larraín (showcasing Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana); as well as some big Hollywood names, like legendary writer/director Paul Schrader (back at the table with the Oscar Isaac-starring The Card Counter) and Maggie Gyllenhaal (making her feature directorial debut with The Lost Daughter, featuring Olivia Colman and Peter Sarsgaard); and a few newcomers, such as Philippine genre maestro Erik Matti (unveiling his three and half hour gangster epic On the Job 2: The Missing 8).
“I think me and all the jury members are ready to enjoy the great films that were selected here — and we are ready to have a big fight on the very last day [when we have to pick the winners],” Bong concluded with a chuckle.
The 78th Venice International Film Festival runs Sept. 1-11, with Golden Lion and other awards handed out at a ceremony on Sept. 10.
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