Rome: What if you threw a film festival and nobody came? That, in essence, is the challenge facing organisers of this year’s Venice Film Festival, the glamorous annual competition where stars, critics, photographers and industry executives mingle on the bustling Lido, overlooking sandy beaches and the blue Adriatic.
Provided, of course, it’s a normal year. But in 2020, the world’s oldest film festival is forced to walk a tightrope between preserving its lustre as the premier launch pad for Academy Award-winning films, while safely navigating the coronavirus crisis and averting the controversy over gender inequality that has dogged it in the past.
Opening Wednesday and continuing until September 12, the prestigious event now in its 77th year will be the first international film festival since the pandemic shuttered competitions around the world.
It has put in place a host of safety measures — from limited seating to thermal scanners, to a fan-free red carpet — to protect attendees as Covid-19 cases continue to climb in Italy and around the world.
But just days ahead of the opening, organisers are scrambling to navigate unprecedented territory amid uncertain attendance and last-minute cancellations.
Whereas Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson provided the star firepower at last year’s festival, ongoing travel restrictions mean that most Hollywood elites will be no-shows, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.