Film Festivals around the world seem to be battling each other for bigger stars and bigger movies but this year's Venice Film Festival, that opened August 29th, is turning its attention away from celebrity and back to the films.
The festival has a new director this year and Alberto Barbera vowed, when he took over, that the 69th annual event would be more about substance and less about star-power. That compares to last year when Madonna dominated coverage of the festival, when she premiered W.E., a film panned by critics and movie-goers alike.
This year's festival that began August 29 and runs until September 8, is featuring fewer films in the main competition, 18 compared to last year's 23. And of the 50 feature films being screened, an unprecedented 20 women directors are represented.
Barbera tells The Guardian, "Instead of trying to become bigger, like most other festivals, we are going the other way by becoming more relevant and exclusive. There is no automatic entry to Venice – not even for established film-makers."
The films carry a more serious tone too; films about abandoned children, the Libyan uprising, leftist insurrection and the state of the world economy. Barbera tells The Sun, "The main recurring theme is the crisis. The economic crisis, which is having devastating social effects, but also the crisis of values."
That's not to say there haven't been any big stars taking in the film fest. Blake Lively, Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Pheonix are just some of the celebrities that have been dazzling the star-gazers and autograph hounds on the red carpets.
But star power doesn't guarantee success, one of the most anticipated films, Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" starring Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem, was booed by the audience at its Sunday premiere. Malick and the stars were all no-shows at the festival and a promotional trailer about the film has yet to be released.
AFP reports the festival itself, billed as the world's oldest, is being affected by the state of the economy. Hotels report fewer rooms had been reserved in the run-up to the event. And industry insiders blame Internet piracy and fewer advertising dollars for shrinking the amount of money available to make films with indie directors hardest hit.
So Venice organisers have set up a Cinema College to encourage up-and-coming low budget filmmakers. And as part of that, they added a competition for shorts titled "Your Film Festival" that directors submitted entries via YouTube. At an awards ceremony, newcomer David Victori claimed the top prize, $500,000 and the chance to work with Ridley Scott's production team, for his film, "The Guilt" (La Culpa)."