This year marks the 90th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival and the Italian lagoon city will once again bask in the glitz and glamor of the film industry.
However, dark shadows hang over the birth of the festival, which was launched in 1932. The first president was Giuseppe Volpi, former finance minister of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. His declared goal was to present the festival as a product of fascism, to emphasize the innovative cultural power full of experimentation. “A spectacle with Hollywood participation and an international audience, the film festival lent the regime an aura of glitz, modernity, and style,” writes film scholar Marla Stone.
Tens of thousands of spectators celebrate the art of film
In its inaugural year, 1932, the film festival took place from August 6th to 21st on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior. However, the venue soon became too small and the “Palazzo del Cinema” (Cinema Palace) was built on the island of Lido. As early as 1937, 60,000 spectators took part. The presence of many Hollywood stars attracted large audiences, who not only watched what was happening on screen, but also admired the stars up close at the screenings against Venice’s spectacular nighttime backdrop.
The supposedly cosmopolitan high phase was not to survive the outbreak of war: from 1938, the prizes for the best foreign film only went to productions from Nazi Germany, the fascist allies. The jurors were no longer independent, and the festival became a propaganda stage. The notorious anti-Semitic propaganda film “Jud Süss” by Veit Harlan premiered here in 1940, and Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda of the Nazi regime, opened the festival himself.
Shocked by this development, the French diplomat and historian Philippe Erlanger founded his own film festival – in Cannes, France.
Film critics also welcomed the move
The last edition of the Venice Film Festival took place in 1942 and has since been renamed the German-Italian Film Festival. “It had nothing to do with the original festival,” explains film expert Stone. Only films from Germany, Italy and their allies were allowed to be shown.
In Italian film magazines, reporters praised the fact that Hollywood no longer produced “superficial” foreign cinema, but “our own cultivated creatives”. The USA had been boycotting the Venice Film Festival, where the main prize was “Coppa Mussolini”, since 1939.
The film festival has left this past behind. It started again in 1946, a year after the end of the war, and has been attracting filmmakers from all over the world to the Lido ever since. This year’s 79th edition will open with a film from Hollywood: “White Noise” by US director Noah Baumbach, starring Hollywood stars Adam Driver and Greta Gerwig. The jury is chaired by US actress Julianne Moore. Together with the jurors, she will decide who will receive the coveted main prize, long since renamed the “Golden Lion”. As more prominent guests will be Timothée ChalametSadie Sink, Olivia Wilde, Harry Styles, Ana de Armas, Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver are expected.
Die Venice Film Festival run from August 31 to September 10, 2022.