As Barbie crossed the 1-billion-dollar mark and Oppenheimer smashed the gross of Chris Nolan’s Dunkirk with 600 million dollars worldwide (both still counting!), festival directors in Venice, Telluride and Toronto were feeding Kool-Aid to their scrambling sponsors, all worried about pouring money into what they dreaded to envision, empty red carpets, due to the Hollywood actors’ strike.
It’s crystal clear that in the age of Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, festivals with no movie stars are worthless. And if sponsors get cold feet, the festivals will crash in an existential crisis.
So, these unrelenting rivals in bidding wars for hot titles under normal circumstances, festival directors closed ranks like good siblings and zoomed to discuss how to minimize the damage collectively hitting them. “We panicked. Studios and production companies with films already committed stopped returning calls”, Venice festival director Alberto Barbera recalled to The Washington Post. With only a couple of weeks until the opening, the industry’s eyes are all focused on Venice. Which talent will be going and who’s sitting it out?
It’s one thing that the SAG-AFTRA strike halted production, but it also put a gag order on actors to promote their movies. MGM/Amazon responded: without the support of Zendaya’s 184 million followers on Instagram, bringing “Challengers” to an empty red carpet in Venice would be a wasted opportunity, regardless that Luca Guadagnino, the film’s Italian director “fought like a lion” to keep the film in the coveted opening night spot. Then, Barbera bitterly had to accept losing Bradley Cooper to appear in person as the director of “Maestro“, which he penned and stars in, for he’s determined to support the screenwriters and actors, both on strike. The same applies to “Memory”’s star, Jessica Chastain, also bowing out.
Luckily, not all the filmmakers are on par with Cooper and Chastain. Michael Mann’s “Ferrari” was greenlighted by SAG, so he’s expected on the Lido with a slim chance his leading actress Penelope Cruz (who had 2 films in Venice last year!) will show off her Chanel-ed figure on the carpet, even if her co-star Adam Driver stays home in America. French actress Lea Seydoux is likely to join Bertrand Bonello, director of “La Bete”, and Priscilla Presley will probably accompany Sofia Coppola, in competition with her independently made American feature Priscilla. At press time it’s not clear if Liam Neeson is flying in for In “The Land of Saints and Sinners”, and David Fincher and Wes Anderson will (or will not?) accompany their respective films. But Woody Allen with his French movie “Coup de Chance” and Luc Besson with Dogman is on the confirmed guest list, even if Roman Polanski will not risk traveling with The Palace outside of France.
Looking to repeat her success winning Best Actress for “La La Land” in Venice, Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo and Willem Dafoe (he has 2 movies in Venice!), all prominent SAG members and supporters of the strike, will send their cheers to “Poor Things’” director Yorgos Lanthimos, coming in the company of the film’s producers, cinematographer, production and costume designers and composer, providing a chance for us to ask them about their experience of shooting the film in Hungary.
There will be a huge Hungarian presence on the Lido headed by Gabor Reisz and his crew with “Magyarázat mindenre” in competition in the Orizzonti section, first time filmmaker Dorka Vermes withArni, and György Pálfi trying to find gap financing for “The Hen”.
One thing is for sure. The 80th birthday of the Venice Film Festival will be celebrated by a great crowd of significant directors of all ages, kinds and nationalities. And last time we checked, film is a director’s medium. At least in Europe, after all.