Venice, the oldest film festival in the world: curiosities, stories and anecdotes

Venice is the oldest film festival in the world: and the one that debuts tonight with Edoardo De Angelis’ Comandante is the 80th in a row, but the Venice Film Festival turns 91. Founded in 1932 under the complete fascist regime by Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, the grandfather of the producer Marina. Cicogna to renew the elite world tourism on the Lido, brought to its knees by the great crisis of 1929, throughout its long history always under the banner of art and glamour. Venice has known glory, interruptions (during the war years, during protests), contradictions, rebirths.

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It was Mussolini who supported the birth of kermes, viewing cinema as a powerful propaganda tool. And from the very beginning, the exhibition set itself the task of becoming the “mother of all festivals”. Mission accomplished: over time, the festival has evolved from an essentially mundane event intended for the beau monde to what it is today, that is cinema landmark, from hollywood to the rest of the world, an indispensable podium for the promotion of films, a springboard from which every year the race for the Oscars begins. But the Venice Film Festival has also always been a mirror of the Italian political climate, a thermometer of cultural orientations, an expression of changes in customs, and sometimes a battlefield. Like in 2004 when the earthquake hit the appointment of Marco Müller as artistic director instead of Moritz De Hadeln, who was expelled for not allowing Bellocchio’s Buongiorno, under pressure from a jury led by Mario Monicelli, to win.

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Several films took part in the first edition of 1932, organized on the terrace of the Excelsior: Gli men che mascalzoni! Mario Camerini with the very young and romantic Vittorio del Sica, and from America Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Mamuliana, Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, Frank Capra’s Forbidden, present a parade of stars in evening dresses from Greta Garbo to Lionel Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Wallace Berry.
In the following decades, the exhibition will improve its cinematic mission, hosting such masters as Rossellini, Chaplin, Romer, Fellini, Antonioni, Zeffirelli, Scorsese, Bellocchio, Amelio, Sorrentino. He discovered new talents: from Stanley Kubrick, whose debut film Fire and Desire he presented in 1952, to Pedro Almodovar, Emir Kusturica, Wim Wenders, Akira Kurosawa, Jane Champion, Luca Guadagnino.
Roll out the red carpet for an army of stars including Clark Gable, Anna Magnani, who won the Volpi Cup for L’Honoré Angelina in 1947, Brigitte Bardot, Marlene Dietrich, Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, Gina Lollobrigida, Jack Nicholson, Isabelle. Huppert (she has a record: 20 participations, 3 awards, and we will see her again this year in the film “Journey to Japan”, in the “Horizons” section), Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, Cate Blanchett, Brad Pitt, Tilda Swinton, George Clooney, Valeria Golino, two-time Volpi Cup winner, Penelope Cruz, Toni Servillo, Roberto Benigni are awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement in 2021.

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In 1969, the winds of protest driven by the fiery Ettore Scola, Hugo Gregoretti, Citto Maselli, Giuliano Montaldo, Gian Maria Volonte swept away the festival, which was replaced by the more “democratic” and uncompetitive Giornate del Cinema Italiano. In 1979, Carlo Lizzani will restore tuxedos, awards and glamour, getting rid of ideology and returning ancient enamel. For its 80 years, the Exhibition is not without controversy, unrest, scandals. In 1934, Hedy Lamarr’s bare breasts in the film Ecstasy caused an uproar. In 1971, Ken Russell, who performed at the Lido with the caustic group The Devils, was accused of blasphemy. 1988 is the year of Martin Scorsese’s spectacular participation in The Last Temptation of Christ: the director arrives at the exhibition under guard and enters the Excelsior from the kitchens, while fundamentalist Catholics threaten to occupy the Lido (to stop them, he mobilizes even the police on horses) and Franco Zeffirelli added fuel to the fire by accusing their American colleague of disrespect for religion. In response, a flurry of hoots greets his meatloaf biopic Young Toscanini despite the presence of Liz Taylor, and the Florentine director has no choice but to split the audience with open arms, theatrically exclaiming “I’m like Christ on the cross.” .

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And how can we forget in 1996 the fight unleashed by the erotic cartoon “The Doll” by Bigas Luna, where the main character Valeria Marini found herself face to face with Comacchio’s eels? The whistle is so loud that even shoes fly from the hall, that the upset director leaves the hall. In 1999, Kubrick’s last film, Eyes Wide Shut, represents the last appearance of the couple Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, who, after their divorce, will do the same on screen in real life. And most recently, in 2019, jury president Lucrezia Martel was in danger of being fired when she rashly announced that she would not watch Polanski’s An Officer and a Spy because of an old story about rape in America. Scandal, controversy, the risk that the film will be removed. But after a day of hectic negotiations between producer Luca Barbareschi and Mostra director Alberto Barbera, the Argentine director backs down, and in the end, Polanski’s magnificent work wins the Grand Prix.
On September 2, the exhibition will celebrate its first 80th anniversary with “The Lion’s Share”, a dedication documentary by Baptiste Echegaray and Giuseppe Buchi, full of archival material, interviews and testimonials. “You rush to Venice to experience heightened emotions that last throughout the film: you love, you hate, then you quarrel,” says the narrator of Carla Bruni, “after all, there is nothing more important than cinema.”

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