Is Venice Film Fest the New Oscars Lucky Charm?

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Alejandro G. Inarritu

With 10 nominations this year and 15 last year, Venice has proven itself as a key awards season launchpad.

The Venice International Film Festival’s opening night slot has become somewhat of a lucky charm for Oscar hopefuls.

Last year’s Venice opener, Alejandro G. Inarritu's Birdman, swept the 2015 awards with nine nominations and four wins, including best director and best picture. And the 2013 edition of the festival opened with Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which also swept the Academy Awards, with ten nominations and seven wins including best director. Both pictures scored a win for best cinematography for Emmanuel Lubezki.

Venice last year had ten nominations in total, including a best animated feature nomination for Boxtrolls. And the previous year had 15 nominations in total, including four for Philomena and one for animated feature The Wind Rises. Venice 2012 had three nominations in total for The Master.

While nothing can compare to the recent sweep from Mexico’s top directors, the opening slot has long proven to be an advantageous one. 2010’s film Black Swan saw five nominations, including a best actress win for Natalie Portman. The 2007 edition of the fest opened with Atonement, which saw seven nominations with one win.

How could such a small festival, which limits its competition to twenty films, be so rich in Oscar nominations? According to festival director Alberto Barbera, Venice offers a perfect launchpad for award hopefuls, away from more crowded festivals like Toronto and Cannes.

“This is due to many reasons: the perfect timing of the festival (right before the most important releases of the Fall), the visibility offered to each film screened in Venice (without the risk of getting lost in the too crowded lineup of other festivals),” he tells Hollywood Reporter, and “the strong presence of international press that assures a worldwide promotion for the films that decide to use the festival for their launch.” Indeed, Birdman was the talk of Venice, whereas larger festivals had a slew of buzzed-about films, making it harder for one picture to standout.

Barbera is banking on the recent success of Gravity and Birdman to help draw more hot properties to the festival. “I hope these recent wins will help draw more high caliber films to Venice,” says Barbera. “It would be strange if this wouldn't happen. Venice is offering one of the best opportunities to launch a film worldwide, opening the road to the Oscars. Who wouldn’t want to profit from this?”