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VENICE 2020

Alberto Barbera • Director, Venice Film Festival

"We wanted to give a sign of strong support and solidarity to the film industry"

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- Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera talks about the anti-COVID system in place at this year's gathering

Alberto Barbera • Director, Venice Film Festival
(© La Biennale di Venezia)

The 77th Venice Film Festival is the first major international film festival worldwide to take place physically after several months of lockdown. Venice International Film Festival director Alberto Barbera talks about the film selection process, anti-COVID measures and the challenges of the film industry.

Cineuropa: What kind of impact did the lockdown have on the program of the film Biennale?
Alberto Barbera: Until May, we didn’t know if we’d be able to organise a festival at all. As usual, we started to watch films in the beginning of March, which were the same films that were submitted to Cannes. We didn’t know if there were more films coming when Cannes had made its selection. We realised that there were a lot of films which could not be finished for Cannes because of the lockdown in the previous months but that they could be ready on time for Venice. We were able to invite more films than we expected. We invited 63 films to the three categories Main Competition, Orizzonti Competition and Out Of Competition. This year, we have less American movies than usually but a lot of films are coming from India, Brazil and, of course, from Europe. We were not obliged to give up our usual window of the global cinema of the world.

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Do you present less films due to the reduced seating capacities in the cinemas?
Of course, we have to observe all the guidelines and protocols for the anti-covid measures. For example, the capacity of the theatres is reduced to 50%. That means that we have to screen the films several times so that all the people will be able to watch the films. We decided to reduce the number of sections. This year, we won’t present the Scofini section, and we accepted the invitation of Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna to host the Venice Classics section of restored films. The only section that we will present entirely online is the VR Competition.

Is there a maximum seat capacity of 50% for all cinemas in Italy?
It depends on the state and as well on the region. 50% capacity means that one seat is taken and one seat to the left and the right will be blocked so that the cinema visitors won’t have any seatmates. All cinema attendees have to wear a mask when they enter the festival area and they have to keep it on all the time. We check the temperature of everybody entering the festival area only once. We don’t want someone to get sick because they were too close to other festival attendees. After every screening, we will also sanitise the theatre and the seats. We have a very strict plan so that everybody who is coming to the festival can feel safe and enjoy the festival without too much preoccupation.

Due to the reduction of the seat capacity, we have two open air cinemas at the Lido and in the La Biennale garden in Venice. We will also repeat all the festival films for the audience in three screening rooms in a multiplex in Venice and two screening rooms in a multiplex in Mestre.

Will it be required to book the cinema tickets online?
Absolutely. Accredited festivals attendees also have to book an online ticket for each screening. Without a seat reservation, they are not permitted to enter the theatre. This is a safety measure. In case somebody gets sick, we need to check and inform all the people who were close to that person in the theatre.

Fortunately, most of the delegations that are invited with their films to the Venice festival are willing to come. Only a few from countries such as Brazil or India are not allowed to travel to Italy. All the people from outside the Schengen area [read more here] need to present a test with a negative result before they travel and they have to do a second test at the Venice festival when they arrive. If the result is negative, they can participate in the festival.

How many festival visitors do you expect?
We think the number of accreditations will be reduced by 40 to 50%, but it makes the festival safer. There is a lot of attention and curiosity from all over the word because we are the first and one of the very few festivals which are taking place physically this fall. Telluride was obliged to cancel its edition, Toronto will be much smaller than in the past with 50 films only and there won’t be any market. In New York, there will be open air screenings only and less films than usual. 

We are maybe the only big festival that takes place in the fall. We wanted to give a sign of strong support and solidarity to the film industry. We cannot afford to stay in lockdown any longer. We need to reopen the theatres, with all safety measures in place, of course,

Will there be enough studio films from Hollywood?
I understand the concerns of producers that it is a risk to release their film when not all theatres are open. And a certain amount of people are afraid to go to the cinema. But I see another risk when we are waiting one more year to release a film because we need good films when the theatres are open again. The audience won’t have the stimulation to go to the cinema again after it spent months watching films on platforms at home. It is a risk to wait one more year in this particular situation. Why should somebody be convinced to return to his old habits after one or one-and-a-half years and give up the commodity of watching films at home for a small amount of money? Most distributors are waiting for the good moment to release their films, but that is a risk which could damage the entire distribution system and especially the theatres.

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