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Venice Film Festival 2016: Art Movie Challenge

Greetings from the sun-drenched, tree-lined Lido of Venice, the beautiful site of the 73rd “Mostra Internazionale D’Arte Cinematografica la Biennale di Venezia 2016,” or the Venice Film Festival to you all. While Lido has some of the canals for which the individual small islands of Venice are famous, it’s more a sand bar than the city proper, and despite being the place where the public bathing beach originated back in the 1600s, it’s also the place in Venice where the most “ordinary” life happens. Step a little outside of the complex that encompasses the festival and you come upon modern playgrounds and coin Laundromats, the likes of which you’re not going to stumble across in the labyrinth surrounding St. Mark’s Square. When the sun goes down, the festival complex—guarded by steel grates and boxy roadblocks and automatic-weapons-toting police—hosts a lot of outdoor installations, giving certain spaces a kind of Midsummer Night’s Dream of cinema feel. It’s very intoxicating.

I’m here to write about some of my discoveries for, and I’m also serving my second year on the panel of the Bienalle Collerge, a four-year-old project of the festival that’s designed to introduce and encourage emerging filmmakers. If the Bienalle College was an American reality show it would be called “Art Film Challenge.” The selected filmmakers are awarded 150,000 Euros and they have to deliver their finished film to the festival at that budget, with no other funding. Awardees are selected from over 1,000 applicants. Anna Rose Holmer’s widely-praised “The Fits” was one of the films in the group of three last year. This year we have four films to contend with, and I will write about them after we’ve had our critic’s panel on them next Monday. I will tell you a little bit about the scene for the first of the four films I saw today, Alessandro Aronadio’s “Orecchie” (“Ears”).

“Orecchie” screened at the newest facility of the festival, the Sala Giardino, which was built between last year and this. It’s essentially a big red box just north of the Casino, the imposing 1938-built (think Fascist Architecture at it’s most Duce-esque; stairwells the length on New York City blocks and so on). I got to the 5:00 pm screening at about a quarter of the hour, remembering this time last year when I got to a smaller venue 20 minutes early and was the first person to get in, and wasn’t followed by a whole lot of other people. Completely different scene this time. A long, snaky, and fidgety line starting at the entrance to the red box, going off the pavement and down-and-up over what looked like a newly-laid-with-sod grassy knoll, and ending near a snack bar/plaza nearly a football field removed from the main entrance. I dutifully got to the back of the line, did some mental calculations—the new facility seats 446 souls—and concluded my chances didn’t look good. Soon a critical colleague and fellow panelist joined me and was equally flummoxed. To make matters potentially dicier, this colleague had heard tell of some seating issues at the new facility. As in issues with the seats—them coming unbolted from the floor for no good reason, some viewers getting a “sinking” feeling after said unbolting, and so on. There was also a mystery: why were there so many accredited attendees to see this movie. There’s interest in the Bienalle College material, don’t get me wrong, but this was an imposing crowd. The line was still barely moving at about five ten, and we were still on the grassy knoll when word started coming down that the screening was packed, and no one else was getting in.

We were rescued by a guardian angel—a festival person who was dispatched to find us, grab us, and almost sneak us in to the screening. More than one gatekeeper had to have it explained that we were seeing the film in a particular official capacity. Once inside, we witnessed the filmmakers introducing the picture to a wildly enthusiastic crowd that had as many, if not more, public attendees—that is, actual ticket buyers—than press. “It can’t be US,” I said to my colleague. On the other hand, Mr. Aronadio’s filmography is not yet that deep. I hope to get to the bottom of this mystery by Monday if not before. 

To read the rest of Glenn Kenny's coverage from the 2016 Venice Film Festival, click here
Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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