Firsthand Look at Venice Film Festival 2021
Written by: Ekaterina Shevliakova
This year, I was invited to work at the 78th Venice International Film Festival as an interviewer at the Women in Cinema Award ceremony. The festival is one of many programs organized by the famous arts organization La Biennale di Venezia and is officially called Mostra (the Italian for exhibition) of Cinematographic Art. Italians organize various artistic events in Venice every other year, so, in 2021, there were three important ones: the Festival of Contemporary Music, Mostra of Cinematographic Art and Mostra of Architecture. Two of them I was fortunate to attend.
While boarding the “Italo” train from Rome to Venice on September 4, I recalled the incomparable feelings I experienced in 2019 at the International Art Exhibition. The award ceremony was taking place on September 7, but a dear friend – well-known film producer Roberto Bessy – had a presentation of the film “Ride Back to Freedom” and I decided to come in early to screen that and some other movie entries.
I thought everything was planned very well: the train was to arrive in Santa Lucia Station at 2:00 p.m. and the presentation was to start at 4:00. More than enough time to get from one spot to another in a small town, but Venice is not a normal city! There are no buses, no cars, no other usual means of transportation there. After leaving the railway station, you enter an absolutely abnormal way of existence: you are surrounded by water that forces you to live by its own rules. There are no pedestrians, just water-dwellers. Strange “gondola” boats move chaotically up and down the Grand Canal and even the taxis in this extraordinary place are speed boats of various makes!
So, I was bound to buy an expensive four-day “abbonamento” ticket for my whole stay and obediently joined the queue of tourists waiting for the local water bus called a “vaporetto.” A vaporetto ride, which I came to like later on, is a special experience of jumping from the shore onto a rather unsteady platform full of people inside an unusual boat. As always, people tend to gather at the entrance while the middle part of the tram where the seats are remains half-empty. Only the loud shouts of the men who handle the ropes when the boat approaches and leaves a stop can make the public take its correct positions inside these strange vessels. The boats themselves are different shapes and sizes: some are long and spacious with many comfortable plastic chairs and open-air passages. I preferred those, as they offer the opportunity to see and take pictures of the wonderful views of the Grand Canal and Laguna. On the other hand, some other boats are rather small and protected by steel structures with only small glass windows, so you have to stay inside can’t see very much. Plus, this season, the local trams are always full of people moving in different directions, which seemed quite strange in these current “COVID times.” The vaporetto guys are absolutely indispensable creatures for organizing the water travel: they don’t just help you to get on and off the boat; more importantly, they are the only people who know exactly where the boat is going. Without asking such “a conductor,” I never dared to jump on a vaporetto! There are so many routes on the Grand Canal and the directions and timetables were absolutely incomprehensible in my poor mind.
After managing to get to my hotel at the Rialto Bridge and climbing the tiny staircase to my room on the 4th floor, I made another 45-minute water ride to Lido island, where all the festival activities were taking place. Of course, my friend’s presentation had successfully finished. On the way to the festival, I was hoping they would follow the Italian tradition of starting and finishing late, but that was not the case at the “Mostra!” Everything was organized impeccably, and the events were starting and finishing precisely on schedule. At the festival entrance, I was thoroughly screened by brave “carabinieri” at the impressive checkpoint that inevitably reminded me of the famous “Checkpoint Charlie” from the times when the Berlin Wall was still standing.
The festival was full of people from all walks of life, ages and occupations, starting from good-looking, sky-high actresses/models dressed like fairy-tale princesses to the tourists in their simple shorts and walking shoes. An unknown (to me) art director dressed like Casanova was walking around with a herd of young, anorexic-looking girls who were obediently following him and posing non-stop for the amazed public. On the terrace with a prominent red Campari advertisement in the back (seen from everywhere), they were selling various Campari cocktails. All the seats were occupied by the ever-busy cinema people, many of them wearing official suits and dresses – obviously coming from or rushing to business meetings. In my red “serious” dress, I was matching the site perfectly and, to reduce my disappointment, I bought a cocktail, thinking about what I should do next while overlooking the festival grounds from the terrace. There were a lot of innovations this year: the entrance to the Sala Grande (the Grand Hall), where the festival films were to be shown, was obstructed by numerous metallic barriers and the famous red carpet was nowhere to be seen, protected by a tall white wall.
I called Hermann Weiskopf, the director of “Ride Back to Freedom,” and soon was chatting with the whole crew from the film. The jovial Weiskopf was the center of all the conversations, easily switching from German to Italian and English and back. The interview with Weiskopf was a success and, from that moment on, I felt like I became part of the festival activities. My heart started beating in the rhythm of all the professionals around me.
On Sunday, all the routes to Lido were blocked by the police, as an annual regatta was taking place on the Grand Canal. It started with some traditional boats featuring participants wearing historical outfits, followed by a real competition of local schools of rowing.
The next day, we had to travel to Lido again to participate in the celebration of the 10th Anniversary of the Italian Contemporary Film Festival, as I interviewed its director, Paul Golini, a prominent Italian living and working in Canada. This organization gathers very talented and hard-working Italians to develop tight artistic links between Italy and Canada.
In the evening, having passed all the necessary barriers and checkpoints, we managed to get into the Grand Hall to watch a very good Mexican film (“CAJA”) that participated in the competition. The actors and the plot were of the highest quality and we could appreciate the skills of the director and the whole crew.
September 7th proved to be a very hectic day filled with interviews, meetings and other activities. It started early in the morning and finished late at night with the Women in Cinema Award ceremony being the focal point. I managed to conduct 10 interviews; the most important with Alberto Barbera, the Director of La Biennale, who spoke eloquently about the importance of the work of women in cinema and their growing role in the development of modern cinematography.
The scene was stolen by renowned fashion designer Alberta Ferretti, who kindly gave us an interview despite being very busy and having a great number of requests from the crowd of reporters. Actress Virginie Efira was the next important catch for me, as she spoke of eliminating clichés in the film production business and stressed the importance of women becoming not only the passive acting material for the directors but taking the production in their own hands.
Franklin Eugene, who was representing Cultured Focus Magazine, made an outstanding appearance and articulated about the ever-important role that women play in the development and popularization of cinematography as an integral part of the worldwide culture.
Thank you to La Biennale for giving me the chance to take part in the latest developments in international cinema. Thank you for allowing me to meet Mr. Barbera, who continues to excel at organizing the whole infrastructure of La Biennale and has managed it so well for such a long period of time!
Thank you, Claudia Conte, a dear friend of mine, for introducing me to so many interesting people! Thank you, Cultured Focus Magazine, for the opportunity to work at such an important event!
And thank you, dear Venice! I’ll never forget your very special atmosphere!
For more information visit: labiennale.org
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