At the Venice Film Festival’s annual press lunch today, Artistic Director Alberto Barbera offered further insight into down-to-the-wire preparations for what has so far been a very successful mounting of the pandemic era’s first major industry event. He also talked about some of the titles that were still under discussion until near the September 2 launch, as well as talent travel issues. Further, Biennale Director General Andrea Del Mercato revealed the financial cost to the administration as a result of COVID.
“A lot,” Barbera said when I asked how much the organization had spent on protocols. Del Mercato said that between security and sanitary measures, the bill was about 600K euros ($700K). Add in changes in the structure, like running 18 screens rather than 10 to make up for capacity restrictions, and the price ratchets up to about 1M euros ($1.2M). However, he noted, “It’s difficult to give a full estimate of the additional costs we are incurring. A really tricky element is that we had to adapt day after day to little requests.”
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In fact, the regional committee for health and security only confirmed the festival’s protocols on August 25, a mere nine days before kick-off. Also, because the situation was changing from the national and regional points of view, it looked like quarantining might be necessary for people from certain countries. “It was extremely complicated,” Barbera said.
Ultimately, no one had to self-isolate upon arrival, but two filmmakers were delayed. Barbera explained that Michel Franco, whose Nuevo Orden is in competition, and Ann Hui, who today received a Golden Lion Lifetime Achievement Award, were both turned away at their departure airports on their respective scheduled days of travel. After requests made by the festival to the local ministry and the Italian embassy in Mexico City for Franco; and once Hui rerouted her Hong Kong-Frankfurt-Venice flight, each was able to fly one day later.
In terms of films we might have seen here, Barbera recently told Deadline’s Andreas Wiseman that the festival had a long discussion on Sofia Coppola’s On The Rocks, but Apple ultimately decided they didn’t want movies at festivals this year.
Today, he noted that Warner Bros’ Tenet had also been a possibility, but the studio and Christopher Nolan “changed their minds many, many times.” The film had jockeyed release dates during the summer and ultimately began international rollout on August 26, a week before Venice started. “The discussion went on until very recently,” Barbera said. And, 20th/Disney’s The King’s Man was in the pipeline, but didn’t screen on the Lido owing to COVID shifts in the UK (on August 27, the film moved from September into February next year).
Regarding Pedro Almodovar’s very well-received short, The Human Voice, Barbera explained the Spanish filmmaker called the fest in April and said if he was able to shoot right after lockdown, he would do it in time for Venice. This was his first entry since the 90s, but Almodovar has promised to return to the Lido.
Given how smoothly things have been running this year, with fewer titles and more screenings, I asked Barbera if he thought the festival would maintain these sorts of levels. Should he return next year (his mandate is up after this edition and we’ll know in October if he’s coming back), Barbera said the 55-60 range is ideal so all films have the chance to be seen rather than people “having the feeling of missing something” if they have to choose because screening times overlap.
This year is a “very special, and, we hope, unique, edition of the festival” which has acted as a sort of test lab given it’s the first, Barbera said. “If it works, it means everybody could use this kind of experience, maybe improving some elements, but showing it can be done.”