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The army of Hollywood executives, independent filmmakers, movie distributors and ordinary fans descending on the world’s oldest film festival this week sees Venice as a chance, after months of lockdown, closed cinemas and endless Zoom meetings, to celebrate the return of cinema. And for Venice, like for similar A-list festivals such as Cannes (held last month), Telluride and Toronto (both starting next week), celebration means parties.
But while there will be no shortage of glamourous films and head-turning celebrities in Venice — Timothée Chalamet, Penelópe Cruz, Jessica Chastain, Jamie Lee Curtis, Matt Damon and Kirsten Stewart are a small sampling of the paparazzi-bait expected on the Lido this year — COVID-era restrictions and safety concerns mean the festival party scene is changing. Packed, sweaty, dancing-to-five-in-the-morning-on-the- beach blowouts are out; intimate dinners for cast and crew are in.
“A ‘big’ party in Venice now would be 100 people where before it would be 400 to 500. And in Cannes, more than a thousand,” says Laura Alfieri, a party planner who is organizing a number of more intimate events for studios and independent producers this year. “Everything is a bit smaller because of COVID.”
Mounia Wissinger, director of marketing for Protagonist Pictures, which is presenting the splashy Spanish comedy Official Competition starring Cruz and Antonio Banderas on Saturday, opted to do a private dinner with a few dozen people rather than risk a bigger event.
“Dinners are becoming predominant because they are a bit more COVID safe, as we can contain the number of people attending,” says Wissinger. “However, there is definitely an appetite to all come together and celebrate cinema and festivals again. Most dinners we had in Cannes finished on the dance floor, so it’s safe to say that people miss parties!”
It’s not clear that attending talent feels the same. “The actors never really liked the big huge parties,” says Alfieri. “The big parties were something forced on the industry by the sponsors of the events, so they can entertain their clients. Many in the industry would prefer staying with smaller events.”
To party or not to party can also be an economic question. In-demand actors often get a day or two off work to fly into Venice for promotion work, of which a dinner or after-screening party is part, before flying back to set. A positive COVID test at a big party could mean quarantine for everyone attending, including the stars. One great gala could result in a film being shut down for weeks.
The rationale for the big party is promotion. “Getting all those photos of the stars at a cool event, all that press coverage, can really help generate buzz around your movie,” notes David Manning, an events organizer with L.A.- based A-list Communications who is planning an industry lounge for new film company Liquid Media Group at the Windsor Arms in Toronto this month. “But you have to keep things safe. The last thing you want is a bad headline about an outbreak at your event.”
For Toronto, Manning says he’s scouting locations with “plenty of outdoor space allowing easy airflow” and doubling down on COVID security. “Everyone will have to be vaccinated and tested to get in, and we’ll have testing facilities at the entrance to make sure.”
It doesn’t sound like a wild and crazy time. But for Last Night in Soho director Edgar Wright, the subdued party scene in Venice takes a backseat to why he’s there: to celebrate movies — and moviegoing.
“It’s now a privilege to show your films to an audience, and that’s why we’re going,” he says. “We want to be in a cinema and watching them on a big screen. And beyond that, I haven’t thought much about what I’m going to be doing in Venice.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter’s Sept. 3 daily issue at the Venice International Film Festival.
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