Italian Cinema Industry Questions Need for Competitions After Venice Controversies

"The Master"

Italian insiders also wondered why Italian productions do well in Cannes and Berlin, but not in Venice.

ROME – Nearly a week after scandal erupted at the Venice Film Festival after it was revealed that the international jury was prohibited from awarding the festival’s top prize to the film they thought was best, Italian industry figures are still discussing the bewildering developments.

The entertainment pages of Italian newspapers have been filled all week with discussions of the 69-year-old festival’s conclusion, which also included criticisms for the relative lack of hardware for home-grown Italian productions, including the critically acclaimed Bella Adormentata (Dormant Beauty), a powerful euthanasia drama from Marco Bellocchio. The film was considered a contender for a major prize, but it went home almost empty handed.

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The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson’s fictional account of the forming of a new Scientology-like religion, wowed the jury so much that they wanted to give it the prize for Best Film, Best Director, and for Best Actor to co-protagonists Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Prohibited from giving all those prizes to The Master, the jury elected instead to give the Golden Lion to Kim Ki-duc’s provocative mother-son drama Pieta.

Much of the discussion about Venice’s end game centered around the value of having a competition at film festivals, noting that the Toronto Film Festival, which runs through Sunday, has no official competition.

“A competition makes sense for a sporting event, where everyone runs 100 meters and you see who is fastest,” said Pascal Vicedomini, the founder of film festivals on the islands of Ischia and Capri, off the coast of Naples -- neither of which has a competitive section. “For festivals it makes a lot less sense. How many times have we seen a disconnect between what plays best with the audience and the film the jury selects?”

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Film director Gianni Amelio, now artistic director at the Turin Film Festival, which does include competitive sections, was the last Italian to win Venice’s top prize, with his film Cosi redevano (The Way We Laughed) in 1998. But even he is not convinced competitive sections are a good idea.

“The only way it makes sense for a film is if the film is released a short time later,” he said. “Otherwise, the prize doesn’t help the film and by the time the film is released it’s forgotten that it won the prize.”

Sebastian Oliveras, a commentator, said: “There are more festival prizes than there are great films each year. You do the math.”

Despite those discussions, most of the ink on Venice was about the lack of prizes for Bellocchio’s Bella Adormentata and other Italian films that screened on the Lido.

Stefano Rulli, an Italian screenwriter and director said, “When Italian films go to Cannes or Berlin, they are treated with the upmost respect, but in Venice this does not happen.”

Francesco Giro, a former Italian Minister of Culture, agreed.

“The flop of Italian cinema in Venice cannot be without consequences,” Giro said. “We need to open a serious debate on this failure. :It is not credible that we win at Cannes and Berlin and at Venice we are ridiculed and censored.

Riccardo Tozzi, a producer and the president of the Italian audiovisual organization ANICA, said the trend was bad for both Venice and for Italian cinema.

“At this rate, the Lido is going to become a very difficult place for Italian cinema,” he said. “Today it is very difficult to make a serious film, and if they aren’t supported by festivals the situation becomes deadly.”

For his part, Bellocchio said he had a solution. After this year’s experiences, the director said he would never again bring one of his films to the festival in Venice.

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