Venice Film Festival Lifts Off With 'First Man' Premiere, Vanessa Redgrave Tribute

Jason Clark, Olivia Hamilton, Damien Chazelle, Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy_Venice Film Fest - Getty - H 2018
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The grand opening marked the return of Damien Chazelle and Guillermo del Toro after launching career highlights in Venice.

The Venice Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the world, just celebrated its 75th opening with the world premiere of Damien Chazelle's First Man, starring Ryan Gosling and Claire Foy. 

Biennale head Paolo Barrata kicked off the festivities with a hearty welcome back for Chazelle, whose last film, La La Land, opened the 2016 fest and went on to earn 14 Academy Award nominations and six wins.

Jury president Guillermo del Toro also spoke, saying, "I know that of all the festivals in the world, Venice is one of the rare ones that can actually change the life of a filmmaker, no matter at what point in their career the filmmaker may be in." Del Toro, who won the Golden Lion last year for The Shape of Water, went on to Oscar glory after being stereotyped as a genre filmmaker for most of his career. 

The helmer spoke about his belief in the need for festivals to take more of an active role in inclusion goals, then gave his personal guarantee to conduct his job as jury president with utmost seriousness and respect. 

First Man, which tells the story of Neil Armstrong's tumultuous journey to become the first man on the moon, was met with a three-minute standing ovation, which only ended when the stars excused themselves to leave for the afterparty. 

While a new review embargo has killed early buzz from morning screenings, reviews coming out during the initial public screening of First Man have been strong, with The Hollywood Reporter praising it for "emotional involvement" and "stunning technical craft."

Barrata noted that there are 3,300 journalists this year in Venice, 1,300 international — a huge increase, which might help explain the new decision on an embargo. 

The opening ceremony also honored Vanessa Redgrave with the Golden Lion lifetime achievement award for acting, after showing a montage of films throughout her career. The actress spoke of her love for Venice, from the music of Vivaldi to the city's appreciation of cinema. She also urged the audience to go out and by Russian writer Ivan Turgenev's On the Eve, which ends in Venice. 

Redgrave will have a special screening of her latest film, The Aspern Papers, at the festival. The Henry James adaptation, directed by Julian Landais, was shot entirely in Venice. 

The fest's competition is just getting started, with hotly anticipated films including Roma, The Favourite, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and Suspiria premiering in the next few days.

The Venice Film Festival will run through Sept. 8.