Venice Fest Preview: 4 Things to Watch

The world's oldest film festival is introducing novel twists -- a 3D Sandra Bullock pic, virtual screenings -- as the fall film-fest season gets underway.

This story first appeared in the Sept. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. 

The Venice Film Festival, the world's oldest celebration of cinema, turns 70 this year. But it's not resting on its laurels. "It's a highly competitive business," says artistic director Alberto Barbera of Venice's place on the festival circuit. "You have to innovate continually or risk becoming irrelevant." With that in mind, the 2013 edition, which runs Aug. 28 to Sept. 7, is pulling out the stops.

PHOTOS:  5 Perfect Getaways Near Venice Film Festival

3D: "We open with a 3D film and close with one since this seems to be the direction things are going," says Barbera. The curtain-raiser is the world premiere of Alfonso Cuaron's lost-in-space feature Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. (The actor always is welcome in Venice, where he has won awards for 2011's The Ides of March and 2005's Good Night, and Good Luck.) And it will close with Thierry Ragobert's Amazonia, about a monkey raised in captivity that is released into the rain forest.

World premieres: Venice always has insisted that nearly all of the films in its competition are world premieres, and this year's festivalgoers will be the first to see both Stephen Frears' Philomena, starring Judi Dench as a woman searching for the son she gave up for adoption, and Terry Gilliam's The Zero Theorem, about a computer hacker searching for the meaning of human existence. "I've always loved coming to Venice, a beautiful and wonderful city," says Gilliam. "I like to think of my film surrounded by all the gondolas and the sinking palazzos."

STORY: Venice Film Festival: THR's Ultimate Travel Guide

Virtual screenings: Can't make it to the Lido? Expanding an initiative begun in 2012, the movies in the Horizons sidebar, which focuses on new trends in filmmaking -- for example, director Agnes B.'s Je m'appelle Hmmm … -- will stream on the festival's website. A limited number of tickets for the virtual screenings will be available for €4 (about $5.50) each on the site.

Docs: For the first time, the festival is including documentaries in its competition selection. On tap are Errol Morris' The Unknown Known: The Life and Times of Donald Rumsfeld, a portrait of President George W. Bush's controversial secretary of defense, and Gianfranco Rosi's Sacro GRA, which looks at the highway that circles Rome.