Arts & Entertainment

Venice Film Fest celebrates 90th anniversary, takes aim at Russia, Iran

By Gonzalo Sanchez

Venice, Italy, Aug 30 (EFE).- The Venice International Film Festival, which turns 90 this year, kicks off on Wednesday with a line-up of the latest works from directors worldwide and different initiatives that take political aim at the Russian and Iranian governments.

The bulk of the preparation work at the Palazzo del Cinema on Lido Island has been concluded.

Only a few details remain, such as laying out the red carpet on which stars such as veteran actresses Cate Blanchett and Penelope Cruz and newer faces like Timothee Chalamet and Harry Styles will make their entrance.

The world’s oldest film festival is holding its 79th edition and marking 90 years since its inaugural event in 1932 (several editions were postponed due to war and other reasons).

Another cause for celebration is the lifting of pandemic restrictions such as mandatory mask wearing and social distancing that had dampened the tone of the last two editions.

Also gone is the red-carpet Covid wall that had been put in place to prevent crowds of fans from gathering at that popular spot.

But this year’s festival also will serve as a platform for denouncing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and Iran for its persecution of filmmakers and other dissidents.

Times have changed.

While just two years ago the festival awarded its special jury prize to Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, La Biennale di Venezia this year has banned artists linked to the government in Moscow.

“Ukrainian Day” also will be held on Sept. 8, when a series of initiatives will be presented in solidarity with that invaded European country and its artists.

Participants will include Venice Film Festival Artistic Director Alberto Barbera; Ukraine’s ambassador to Italy, Yaroslav Melnyk; and the head of Ukraine’s National Cinema Institution, Marina Kuderchuk.

Also taking part will be the directors of the two Ukrainian films being shown at this year’s festival: Evgeny Afineevsky, whose documentary “Freedom on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom” is being screened out of competition; and Antonio Lukich, whose “Luxembourg, Luxembourg” is competing in the festival’s Orizzonti (Horizons) section, a showcase for innovative cinema.

One of the initiatives of “Ukrainian Day” will be to facilitate the conclusion of certain films by bringing together directors from that country and producers attending the festival.

Separately, the festival will denounce the Iranian government’s persecution of filmmakers such as dissident Jafar Panahi, whose movie “Kehrs Nist (No Bears) is in the running for a Golden Lion.

Panahi has been under arrest since July for protesting the detention of colleagues Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa al-Ahmad, who were taken into custody after denouncing violence against civilians in that Persian country.

A conference on the situation of Iranian artists will be held on Saturday, while on Sept. 9 – the festival’s second-to-last day – filmmakers and other representatives of the world of culture will participate in a flash mob on the red carpet prior to the screening of Panahi’s film.

Another top concern at the festival will be climate change, a global problem that poses a particular threat to Venice, a world-famous tourist mecca that was built on scores of small islands separated by canals.

Its lagoon and part of the city are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Climate change is the theme of an Oliver Stone documentary that will be screened at the festival.

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