Q&A with Alberto Barbera, Director of the Venice Film Festival
Cinema was just 37 years old when the world was first introduced to the Venice Film Festival in 1932. From its very beginning, the event managed to establish itself as one of the most significant film festivals. Masterpieces like ‘Ivan’s Childhood’ (1962), by Andrei Tarkovsky, ‘Three Colours: Blue’ (1994) by Krzysztof Kieślowski, ‘The Last Year in Marienbad’ (1968) by Alain Resnais, and ‘Rashomon’ (1951) by Akira Kurosawa premiered here.
Since then, the history of cinema, with its successes, and challenges, has been etched into the narrative of the Venice Film Festival. This annual celebration of cinema gifted the world with groundbreaking artists and took part in the shaping of the medium. In 2023, the Venice Film Festival is celebrating its 80th anniversary.
Running from August 30 to September 9, the festival will present some of the most anticipated films of the year. Over the past months, there's been growing excitement around movies like Yorgos Lanthimos' 'Poor Things,' David Fincher's 'The Killer,' and Wes Anderson's 'The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar.' Also, this year the ‘Venice Classics’ category will showcase the restorations of timeless classics like ‘Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors’ (1965) by Sergei Parajanov, ‘Andrei Rublev’ - Director’s Cut (1966) by Andrei Tarkovsky, Luchino Visconti’s ‘Bellissima’ (1951), and Agnès Varda’s ‘Les Créatures’ (1966).
In 2023 the Festival is promising an exciting lineup. To learn more about the iconic Venice Film Festival and how it’s celebrating its 80th anniversary, we talked with its director Alberto Barbera about its film selection process, the actors’ strike in Hollywood, and what he feels is the most exciting part of this year’s festival.
What criteria does the Venice Film Festival prioritise in the process of film selection, and could you tell us about any challenges associated with upholding these standards?
The only criteria that we follow in the selection process is the quality of the film that we are watching. No other criteria, like the content, particular issues, or attention to social or political aspects are taken into account. The concept is to show some of the best quality films of the season, together with a wide range of films from different regions in the world. What do we mean when we speak of quality? A personal point of view of the filmmaker, an original approach to the theme or the narrative form, the ability to propose innovative solutions in terms of form, character construction, and the ability to reflect on new aspects even in the case of familiar issues.
Because of the actors’ strike in Hollywood, instead of Guadagnino’s ‘Challengers’, the festival will now open with ‘Comandante’, directed by Edoardo De Angelis. Are there any efforts being made by the festival to promote the cause and support the rights of those who work in the industry?
I do not think it is the festival’s job to take a position in the conflict between screenwriters and actors and representatives of the film industry. I have been able to say in numerous interviews that many points of the demands made by the strikers are more than reasonable, such as the concern to guarantee the fundamental rights of workers and the imperative need to regulate the use of Artificial Intelligence. But these are personal opinions, not a position of the Biennale as such, which must remain super partes in a case like this.
Photo 1 - Priscilla by Sofia Coppola © A24 Distribution, LLC; Photo 2 - Poor Things by Yorgos Lanthimos © Yorgos Lanthimos
This year, films like Sofia Coppola’s ‘Priscilla’, ‘Poor Things’ by Yorgos Lanthimos, and Wes Anderson’s ‘The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar’ festival are scheduled to premiere at the 80th Venice Film Festival and are generating much excitement. Could you share your insights on these films and the reasons behind their selection?
I can’t talk about the film that we have selected and the reasons behind their selection. But they are excellent films, which is why they are part of our lineup. I think I chose the films that surprised me more, generated in me a strong emotion during the screening or made me think about the future of cinema. But it’s up to the critics and the audience to express a final judgement.
Over the course of 80 years, how has the festival influenced the film industry?
Film festivals have shown throughout their history that they can play a very important role in promoting films, sometimes even irreplaceable. There are many cases of films that would never have gained international fame if they had not been discovered and supported by a festival. Venice, for example, presenting the Golden Lion to “Rashomon” by Akira Kurosawa in 1951, helped to make Japanese cinema known to the whole world, until that moment completely unknown.
Photo 1 - Bellissima (1951) by Luchino Visconti © CEI Incom, IMDb; Photo 2-3 - Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1965) by Sergei Parajanov
Each year, the festival has offered an outstanding selection of films. Can you tell us how the 80th Venice International Film Festival’s selection will be different from previous years and how it has evolved?
There is not a big difference compared to previous years. We have the same number of films, distributed into the same number of sections: Competition, Out of Competition, Orizzonti, Orizzonti Extra, and Venice Classics. The evolution is not in the festival, but in the film industry and in the contents.
For example, there are fewer films facing the problems related to couples or family life, and there is a greater focus on the problems facing the contemporary world: migration, climate change, armed conflicts, and the distress of adolescents, a theme that recurs in a number of films. Perhaps because they had suffered the consequences of the long pandemic and social confinement much more than the older generations. There is a feeling of luck in the future for them and a sort of betrayal from the adults that reverberates in many films.
Photo 1 - Damien Chazelle and Caterina Murino; Photo 2 - Damien Chazelle © La Biennale di Venezia. Photo: ASAC
Damien Chazelle was selected as the jury president for the Main Competition. What do you think he will add to the festival as an artist and a director?
Damien Chazelle is not only one of the masters of contemporary cinema. He is also a great cinephile, a terrific film lover, curious and intelligent. I am sure he will give a great contribution to the work of the jury of which he is the chairman, guiding the discussions and ensuring a balanced verdict.
For you, what is the most exciting aspect of the festival this year?
The idea that some of the most expected films of the Fall will be disclosed at the Venice Lido, along with some of the most significant first-timers from all over the world.
As an Art de Vivre subscriber, gain further insights from leading visionaries pushing boundaries in arts and culture, such as Tomás Saraceno, whose first UK solo exhibition Web(s) of Life is running at the Serpentine Gallery in London until September 10, 2023.
Credits for the Main photo: Director Alberto Barbera © La Biennale di Venezia. Photo: ASAC
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