The Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, internationally better known as the Venice Film Festival, is by far the oldest film festival still taking place today. There are screenings in cinemas all over the city, but the centre of the action is the open air cinema in the Lido area. Held every September, the outdoor movie festival is part of the Venice Biennale, a major biennial exhibition and festival of contemporary art.
The Mostra is made up of four sections: Venezia; Out of Competition; Orizzonti; Corto Cortissimo. They run alongside International Critic's Week; Venice Days and Film Marketplace. While the Venezia features 20 feature films in competition, the Out of Competition section showcases some of the biggest films of the year. Orizzonti aims to provide a platform for new trends in cinema; the Corto Cortissimo is a competition for short films.
The festival was established in 1932, and even in the prevailing cinematic climate of fascist propaganda films and imitations of Hollywood comedies ("white telephone" comedies, named after that undying symbol of elegance and opulence), it upheld the values of cinema d'auteur, transcending national boundaries.
After the Second World War, the event reflected the new climate of freedom of expression. Cinema makers of the Neo-realist school such as Rossellini and De Sica discovered more direct takes on reality which gave the lie to the glossy artificiality of much Hollywood cinema, opening the way for visionaries like Fellini whilst influencing American film of the 1960s.
In 1952, the characteristic "Leone d'Oro" (Golden Lion) prize was introduced. Recently, a new award has been added, the San Marco Award for the best film in the "controcorrente" section. To this day the Golden Lion remains, along with the Cannes Palme d'Or, one of the few trophies in the film world that comes anywhere near Hollywood's little golden man, the Oscar. Although the festival has traditionally sponsored non-Hollywood cinema, there has recently been a rapprochement, making this one of the most glamorous end-of-summer venues in the world.
In recent years there has been criticism that the Venice Film Festival has become a launchpad for US films, interspersed with a smattering of secondary Italian movies for political reasons. However, the Italian film producer, Marco Mueller, who runs the festival, defends the strong presence of Hollywood fare in Venice as an attempt to honour America's unique place in film history:
"Modern cinema was defined by a number of directors working within the Hollywood studio structure, so if modern cinema was born out of Hollywood, then why should we leave it outside the door?" he asks.
Biennale president Davide Croff adds: "The Venice festival has strong roots in its cultural history, and we cannot move away from that mission - but at the same time, there is a certain amount of glamour that is necessary to a festival, so we very much share Marco's vision. The Hollywood presence is welcome and required to be part of what the film industry can present to the world."
Venice International Film Festival official website: http://www.labiennale.org/en/cinema/festival/