Introduction by the Director of the 78th Venice International Film Festival Alberto Barbera

The slow one now / Will later be fast

As the present now / Will later be past (…)

For the times they are a-changin’ 

Bob Dylan, The Times They are a-Changing

Like yet another, lamentable remake of the movie Groundhog Day, the pandemic we thought had been eradicated by time and vaccines seems to show up again in periodic waves, in disguise (the variants) and strung together one after another to form a chain that resists our efforts and desire to see the end of it. Everybody predicts that the autumn of 2021 will be the moment of a much hoped-for resurgence, which has been postponed several times to general dismay.

We aren’t so confident anymore, even though we are bolstered by great faith in science and humankind’s ability to react to even the worst adversities. Hence, our decision to hold the next Film Festival of the Biennale di Venezia in the presence of the public and with even greater conviction than during the preceding annus horribilis, formulating the 78th edition that comes just one year before we celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Festival’s birth, when it was launched in August 1932. Once again, we will do so with calculated caution, making haste slowly, in the words of the great Emperor Augustus.

That is, without hesitation but prudently. And without losing heart, to paraphrase the poet Nicolas Boileau. We are aware of the responsibility that awaits us and of the expectations that many people have placed in this first festival, destined to open the new season of that unwritten calendar which marks the life of film industry professionals (without the disparaging overtones that sometimes accompany the use of the Italian term “cinematografaro”).

Behind us, two seasons’ worth of movies press forward to see the light of a projector: the films that were finished just before or during the spring 2020 lockdown and those that found the strength and courage to be made during the second, unexpected (and much longer) lockdown period. Many of them – more than usual: as though the pandemic had served to stimulate creativity and raise the quality bar – had everything it takes to aspire for a place in our limited program, and many of them were unable to enter because of an absolute lack of space. Even more than usual, this year’s lineup (forgive me the soccer metaphor, in the year that Italy justly won the European championship) reflects the vocation to give voice to the multitude of perspectives, genres, and cinematographic areas that has always characterized the Festival’s program. 

There are few significant absences (China maybe, but it is represented by two short films and some coproductions – not to mention that there is a film from Taiwan in any case), while the rest of the continents are well represented. Italy’s presence deserves a mention of its own, since it is more consistent than usual. Not in deference to our nation’s production, nor to take part in giving a special treatment to support the country at a difficult moment. On the contrary, the Italian selection is the snapshot of a moment of grace, during which already affirmed filmmakers seem to express themselves at the top of their ability, and others prove to be essential reference points for the cinema of today and tomorrow.

The reappearance of American cinema, with its usual entourage of stars and audience darlings, is another sign of the widespread desire to put an end to the long period of abstinence that the pandemic has forced on us until now, whereas a return to a pre-pandemic percentile regarding the presence of female directors (five in the main competition, compared to eight the previous year, equal to 26% of the totality of filmmakers in the official selection of the Venice Film Festival – it was 28% last year and 25% in 2019) is, unfortunately, a confirmation – which we already suspected – that the long period of production slowdown has weighed more on the female component of the film universe, forcing a temporary setback on the process of gender parity invoked and wished for by all.

Alongside the much-awaited and much-announced names, there are also discoveries and gambles, entrusted to filmmakers (often young, and coming from cinematographies that are relegated to the margins of the production universe, which seems to want to perpetuate the predominance of countries with a longer and established film tradition). Many times, they are the ones who provide the most significant experiences in the renewal of forms, languages, and aesthetics that are destined to contribute to the ceaseless process of cinema’s transformation and of its manifold narrations, for which we feel a constant need.

And lastly, there is a new section, Orizzonti Extra, in which, for the first time, a prize will be awarded by the spectators: not by an Audience, which is an abstract entity. Instead, a prize will be assigned exclusively by all those people who attend the projections of the eight movies that will vie for this recognition, which will hopefully augur well for their commercial release.

Overall, I feel I can state that the program of this 78th Festival is proof of the extraordinary vitality of contemporary cinema. Far from being felled by the Coronavirus and by the technological revolution that is destined to radically change the rules of the game with which we have cohabited for its entire first century of life, cinema will continue to amaze, astound, captivate, and affect. We know we must come to terms with new production methods and, above all, with unfamiliar distribution models, destined to have more than a few repercussions on our habits as spectators and on those of the people who work in such an important and crucial sector. Mindful of Bob Dylan’s song, let’s look to the future of cinema with renewed confidence and interest. We won’t be proved wrong.


Alberto Barbera

Director of the 78th Venice International Film Festival

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