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On the opening night of the 2020 Venice Film Festival, the heads of seven European film festivals — including Cannes boss Thierry Frémaux, Berlin artistic director Carlo Chatrian, José Luis Rebordinos of San Sebastian and Tricia Tuttle of the London Film Festival — joined Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera onstage at the Sala Grande. It was a sign of solidarity with Venice as the first major international festival to hold an in-person event since the start of COVID-19.
A year on, Venice remains the gold standard for how to hold a film festival during a pandemic.
The safety measures piloted on the Lido — temperature checks upon entry; masks and social distancing in theaters; online ticketing for every screening, event and news conference — have become the norm for international cinema events. But few festivals have managed to implement safety protocols with such efficiency. So much for the stereotype of disorganized Italians.
Security was no-nonsense — mask low-riders were told to cover up unless they were outside and eating or drinking — but also casual. The general mood was one of, well, solidarity. Coronavirus measures may have bitterly split Americans and prompted large protests in France and elsewhere in Europe, but in Italy, there has been broad political consensus for the safety measures introduced by Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Even populist leaders, like the Trump-esque head of the far-right Lega Nord party, Matteo Salvini, have gotten with the program.
In Venice, notes veteran PR exec Laurent Boye, who attended the festival in 2020, Barbera led by example. “The image that sticks in my mind is Barbera and [2020 Venice jury president] Cate Blanchett on the red carpet, both masked up, elbow-bumping each other,” says Boye. “Every festival should be inspired.”
Venice’s strict-but-casual approach appears to have reassured Hollywood. While only a handful of stars attended in 2020 — mostly Europeans like Tilda Swinton, Vanessa Kirby, Stacy Martin, Lotte Verbeek and Pedro Almodóvar — the Lido red carpet this year should be as full as social distancing rules allow. “They really did the job last time making sure everyone felt safe. I think most talent will be eager to attend this time around,” notes one CAA exec.
Venice is planning to keep its 2020 safety protocols in place, mostly unchanged, for the 78th festival, which kicks off Sept. 1. The one major difference involves the Green Pass, Italy’s new nationwide health passport that shows proof of a vaccination, a negative test swab taken in recent days or proof of a past virus infection (which makes it much less likely a visitor will get sick or pass on the infection); it will be required for access to all theaters, as well as restaurants and other cultural venues. Starting in September, the pass also will be required to board the ferries that move attendees between Venice proper and the Lido, where the festival takes place. Italy has said it will accept equivalent COVID-19 certificates from across the European Union as well from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Japan and Israel. Barbera also noted that the Green Pass will be integrated into the festival’s accreditation system so that attendees will not have to show it every time they enter a theater. “It won’t be difficult to get access,” he told THR. “But everyone will be extremely safe and secure.”
This story first appeared in the Aug. 25 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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Academy Museum of Motion Pictures