Everything You Need to Know About the Venice Film Festival

Silvia Donati | Tue, 08/27/2019 - 05:55

One of the most prestigious and well-known film festivals around the world, the Venice Film Festival returns this year to the Lido for its 76th edition, from August 28 to September 7.

In honor of the most glamorous film festival of all – a favorite of the elite film industry, with A-list celebrities flocking to the Venice lagoon, here’s a little background history and most interesting facts.

  • The Venice Film Festival (Italian: Mostra Internazionale di Arte Cinematografica di Venezia) is the oldest in the world; its first (non-competitive) edition was held between the 6th and 21st of August 1932 on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior on the Venice Lido, almost 90 years ago. The other major European film festival, Cannes, began in 1946. The longest-running film award is the Oscars, which date to 1929. The first film to be shown at the first edition was American director Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).
  • The Venice International Film Festival is part of the Venice Biennale, a ‘celebration of the arts’ focusing on contemporary architecture, visual arts, cinema, dance, music, and theater. The Biennale began as the Art Biennale, founded by the Venetian City Council in 1895; originally held every two years, it now alternates with the Biennale devoted to architecture. The Venice Film Festival is the best-known of the Biennale events, and the one attracting more attention, given the caliber of the movie industry people attending.

[George Clooney and Brad Pitt at the Venice Film Festival.]

  • The ‘Golden Lion’ (Italian: Leone d’Oro) is the festival’s most coveted prize, and one of the most important international cinema awards overall; however, it was not created at the same time that the festival was born. Introduced in 1949, the design of the statuette was inspired by the symbol of Venice itself, the Lion of Saint Mark’s, the winged lion which had appeared on the flag of the Republic of Venice. Golden Lion of San Marco was the name of the prize from 1949 to 1953; it was changed into ‘Golden Lion’ in 1954.  
  • Besides the Golden Lion, there are several other prizes awarded. The ‘Silver Lion’ is awarded to best director; the ‘Grand Jury Prize’ and the ‘Special Jury Prize’ are awarded to especially deserving movies. The ‘Marcello Mastroianni Award’ was instituted in 1998 in honor of the great Italian actor to acknowledge an emerging actor or actress. The ‘Golden Osella’ is for the best screenplay. The ‘Volpi Cup’ (Coppa Volpi), awarded to the best actor and actress, is the oldest of all; it was introduced in 1934 and dedicated to then Biennale president and festival founder, the count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata.

Alberto Sordi at the Mostra del Cinema di Venezia in 1967

[Alberto Sordi at the Mostra del Cinema di Venezia in 1967.]

  • The traditional festival venue has been, since its inauguration in 1937, the Palazzo del Cinema at the Lido (the long, thin island across the lagoon, reached by vaporetto). However, in 1946, as the Palace had been confiscated by the Allies, the Festival was held in the San Marco Cinema, before moving to the Palazzo Ducale the following year. In 1949 the Palazzo del Cinema began hosting the Festival again and is still the event’s main headquarters. Other venues nearby also host screenings.
  • Canals turn into floating red carpets at the Venice Film Festival, with stars arriving by boat, and fans and photographers loving it.

Gina Lollobrigida at the Venice Film Festival in 1966

[Gina Lollobrigida at the Venice Film Festival in 1966.]

  • The most acclaimed films by the public and critics are not always the ones to be awarded the jury prize. Such was the case for Senso by Luchino Visconti and La strada by Federico Fellini, both favorite in the 1954 edition. Unexpectedly, the Golden Lion was awarded to Renato Castellani’s Romeo and Juliet instead, and the audience whistled loudly as the announcement came. When it was announced that the Silver Lion would go to Fellini’s film, his fans and Visconti’s fans even got physical.
  • Many young actors awarded the Marcello Mastroianni Prize went on to become major movie stars: case in point Jennifer Lawrence, who won the prize in 2008 when she was only 18 for her performance in The Burning Plain; Tye Sheridan won the award in 2013 for his role in Joe and recently starred in Spielberg-directed blockbuster Ready Player One.

Jennifer Lawrence

[Jennifer Lawrence, winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award when she was only 18.]

  • Italy and France, long-time cinematic rivals, boast the same number of Golden Lion awards, 11 each. The United States follows closely with ten awards won.