Venice Critics' Week Boss on Why His Competition Lineup Features More Female Directors

Leonardo Kurtz
Venice Critics' Week director Giona A. Nazzaro

"Women move faster. They think faster," says festival director Giona A. Nazzaro.

While the Venice Film Festival’s main competition lineup this year has just one female director out of 21 films, the program outside of the main spotlight has more diverse lineups.

Venice’s sidebar Critics’ Week, which focuses on new directors, has a total of seven competition films, with five of them helmed by a woman, for example. The Critics’ Week has provided a launchpad for new filmmakers since 1984. In fact, the lone woman in the Venice 74 sidebar competition, Vivian Qu (Angels Wear White), first came to the Critics’ Week in 2013 with her debut film Trap Street.

"Film festivals represent a key way for filmmakers to enter the industry,” says Stacy Smith, director of the Media, Diversity, & Social Change Initiative. “Showcasing the work of female filmmakers early in their careers is an essential part of increasing the number of women's voices in popular storytelling."

This year, the Critics’ Week’s opening film Pin Cushion is also directed by a woman, Deborah Haywood. It is about a mother and daughter finding their way in a new town. Among competition highlights, Katharina Wyss explores the radical stage presence of a tormented teenager in Sarah Plays a Werewolf, and Helena Wittmann looks at two women divided by an ocean in Drift.

Annika Berg debuts what has been called a modern-day Run Lola Run in her radical teen punk drama Team Hurricane, which has taken festival audiences by storm. In Hunting Season, Natalia Garagiola looks at a father whose world is shattered when his violent teenage son returns home, in what has been praised as a sophisticated portrait of the complexities of male aggression. And Silvia Luzi co-directed Crater with Luca Bellino about the difficult relationship between a carnival vendor has his 13-year-old daughter.

Similar to the main lineup, and other sidebars such as Venice Days, the Critics’ Week does not come together with any type of quota in mind. But unlike those lineups, the director of Venice Days does not claim to watch films not knowing who is behind the production. Critics’ Week head Giona A. Nazzaro has made a point of seeking out young female voices for his program, which this year he believes is rich in new voices.

After choosing the lineup, he was happily surprised with the large percentage of female talent represented above and below the line. “I am aware that there is a great wealth of female talent, not only in terms of female directors, but in all working capacities,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter. “In our film slate we have behind the directors a whole world of female talent that is up and coming. Therefore there is this incredible positive energy going around.”

Given that the Critics’ Week focuses on debut films, Nazzaro believes there is a direct correlation with why he may attract more female directors to the festival. Critics’ Week is an important place for newcomers to be showcased, because your first feature is the place where you can take all the chances, and you can make sure that your voice is heard. We are looking for people who are taking a stand: a moral, aesthetic, ethical, political position,” he says. “It’s evident that this year the more challenging work has been made by female directors; there is no contest about it. In my experience, most of the time, more striking projects come from a female point of view.”

In terms of the responsibility that festivals have in showcasing diverse voices, Nazzaro says, “We have to go out and find them. I think the festival has a responsibility to showcase diversity, because I believe diversity is one of the symptoms of quality.”

Given what he has seen on the horizon, Nazzaro is hopeful that the future of cinema will open up opportunities for more diverse voices. He believes that women directors may be more driven than men “by sheer creativity and the desire to say something meaningful.” In his experience as a film mentor and curator, “the guys are more stuck in their own mythologies. And the girls travel with light luggage. I mean men make jokes about the heavy luggage of women when they travel, but when they make films they just take a toothbrush and they go. Whereas the men, in my experience, they say, ‘I need this. I need that.’ Women move faster. They think faster.”