Hollywood stars descend on Italy as Venice Film Festival kicks off

The 78th Venice Film Festival got underway Wednesday with a slew of Hollywood stars expected on the red carpet for the September 1-11 event, beginning with Penelope Cruz for Pedro Almodovar’s opening film Parallel Mothers, in competition, and Isabelle Huppert for French drama Promises, which opens the fest’s more cutting-edge Horizons section.

They will soon be followed by the creative teams and key cast “of all the films,” said artistic director Alberto Barbera speaking to Variety. He pointed out that Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya and the “entire 10-member cast” of Denis Villeneuve’s Dune reboot are headed to the Lido.

“This year, there is a quantity of talents coming, especially from the US, that is really impressive,” Barbera added, underlining that “the Americans are out in full force.”

The only major US actor who won’t be coming is Adam Driver, who stars in Ridley Scott’s medieval epic The Last Duel, which screens late in the top-loaded fest. That’s because Driver is currently on set of the new Noah Baumbach film White Noise, according to Barbera. Matt Damon, however, is set to come to Venice for The Last Duel, in which he stars alongside Ben Affleck.

It’s still unclear whether Affleck will be on hand for the premiere, though the actor’s partner Jennifer Lopez has been in town for a Dolce & Gabbana bash, prompting speculation that the couple, historically known as “Bennifer,” could make their Lido debut.

Besides “Parallel Mothers,” Venice’s hot-pics-packed first four days include Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog,” which stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst, both of whom are making the trek, and Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter, which Oscar Isaac and Willem Dafoe are coming to tubthump.

September 3 will feature a megawatt mini-marathon comprising Pablo Larrain’s Princess Diana drama Spencer, which will see Kristen Stewart on the red carpet, followed by the Dune team, and then by Maggie Gyllenhaal‘s directorial debut The Lost Daughter, in competition, for which Olivia Colman and Dakota Johnson are jetting in.

Anya-Taylor Joy will be disembarking for Edgar Wright’s psychological thriller Last Night in Soho and Jessica Chastain will be walking down the Lido’s walled-in catwalk for HBO’s limited series Scenes From a Marriage.

Barbera’s only regret is that due to COVID-19 precautions, the red carpet, much like last year, “will be out of bounds for fans,” he said.

Once again, Venice has been forced to place a wall-like outer barrier shielding the long catwalk entirely, in order to avoid close knit crowds. Socially distanced photographers will be positioned inside the wall. Due to the Delta variant, “we were denied authorisation to open [the catwalk] up,” Barbera said.

The Lido’s red carpet ritual will be broadcast live and streamed on multiple outlets.

Venice last year was the world’s only top-tier fest that pulled off a physical edition, albeit with half the usual crowd.

This year, the fest’s role as a symbol of Italy’s post-pandemic restart takes on even greater significance, with more than 9,000 accredited attendees — two-thirds of the event’s pre-pandemic capacity — including plenty of international press. The opening ceremony will be attended by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

Fest attendees flying into Venice from most foreign countries will be able to enter Italy thanks to its recent validation of non-EU proof of COVID-19 vaccinations. For example, Americans can now use their CDC card as proof of vaccination in Italy, where the EU’s so-called Green Pass, held by vaccinated citizens, is also required to enter indoor spaces such as restaurants, bars and movie theatres.

The European Union on Monday recommended that its member countries place new travel restrictions on unvaccinated visitors from the United States. But this restriction isn’t mandatory, and Italy hasn’t yet indicated that it will change its rules. More importantly, Barbera said 90 per cent of fest attendees are vaccinated, based on an email survey the fest recently sent out.

Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test held up to 48 hours prior to entry is required for fest accreditation. For festgoers who need testing, Venice has set up 12 rapid COVID test swab spots on the Lido where there are mandatory temperature checks to enter outdoor festival grounds.

Accreditation will suffice to enter the fest’s screening venues which, like last year, are at 50 per cent capacity due to mandatory social distancing and where masks are again necessary during films. Delegates must book digital tickets for screenings and also for press conferences three days in advance — a rolling experience that’s similar to booking tickets for a rock concert the second they go on sale.

Meanwhile, the 28,000 tickets for Venice film screenings available to the general public are already almost sold out.

“We multiplied screenings, using all available venues on the Lido and elsewhere,” said Barbera who this year even set up an outdoor arena in a skating rink on the Lido. He added that he hopes “all accredited guests will be able to see the movies they want to see.”

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