Venice 2012: The Festival Gets Underway, Showing Its Feminine Side

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mira Nair's film, starring Riz Ahmed as a Pakistani man working on Wall street, opens the festival Aug. 29.

A total of 31 of the 82 films in the official selection or in the three main sidebars are directed or co-directed by women, perhaps the most ever.

VENICE – Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist was the opening film at the 69th edition of the world’s oldest film festival Wednesday, an event showing its feminine side under first-year artistic director Alberto Barbera.

The film, a controversial and provocative look at post-Sept. 11 America, tells the story of a Pakistani man working on Wall Street, torn between his American-style ambitions and loyalty to his ethnic roots. It is Nair’s third appearance in Venice since she won the festival’s main Golden Lion prize for Monsoon Wedding in 2001, exactly four days before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the events that inspired The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Film Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Even if the events Nair focuses on are not especially feminine, the festival as a whole is: of the 82 full-length films and documentaries appearing in- or out-of-competition in Venice or in one of the three main competitive sidebars -- Horizons, Critics’ Week, and Venice Days -- 31 of them were directed or co-directed by women.

Among the other feminine highlights for the festival:  Spring Breakers from the U.S.’s Harmony Korine; Un Giorno Speciale (A Special Day) from Italian Francesca Comencini, Rama Bursthein's Israeli production Lemaile et Ha-Chalal; and Jesica Woodsworth's La cinquieme saison, all in the main competition.

Danish director Susanne Bier joins Nair out of competition, with Love is All You Need. The sidebars are also heavy on female directors.

“It’s not something we set out to do, to focus on female directors,” Barbera told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview after the lineup was announced. “We selected the best films available and it turned out this way.”

If one of the four female directors with films in the main competition wins the Golden Lion as Nair did 11 years ago, it will be the second time in three years a female director won Venice’s top prize, following Sofia Coppola, who won it for Somewhere in 2010.

The Venice Festival runs through Sept. 8.