Winds of crisis blowing in Venice
For all the glamorous seaside partying at the Venice film festival, there is a distinct air of austerity at this year’s edition for an industry that is questioning its economic future.
The festival line-up has been slimmed and the star wattage toned down while even some of the movie plotlines reflect various forms of fallout from the financial crisis – from family and relationships to faith and spiritual values.
“The main recurring theme is the crisis. The economic crisis, which is having devastating social effects but also the crisis of values,” said Alberto Barbera, director of what is the world’s oldest international film festival.
“I wanted to give a voice to those who do not have one,” said Ivano De Matteo, the Italian director of Gli Equilibristi (The Tightrope Walkers) about a man whose perfect life falls apart when his wife leaves him.
“My film is about the economic balancing act,” he said, adding that it was about people who are too rich to be helped and too poor to live.
“It’s not just a problem of one or two people, it’s a disease. There is a middle class that is becoming impoverished in Italy,” he added.
In South Korean director’s Kim Ki-duk’s Pieta, a loan shark lives a ruthless life until a woman claiming to be his mother comes into his life.
“People today are obsessed with a fantasy that money can solve anything,” said Kim, who has become famous for films with strong messages.
“We realise that we are accomplices to everything that occurs in our period. Money will ask sad questions until the people of this era die,” he said.
In Daniele Cipri’s É stato il figlio (The Son Did It) the crisis in Italian society is explored through the Ciraulo family living in Palermo.
The father supports his family by selling scrap iron from disused ships until one day his daughter is killed by a stray bullet.
The family, which gets itself into dire financial straits, eventually gets compensation for mafia victims and ends up buying a Mercedes.
“The symbol of the Mercedes has a tragic, grotesque tone which fits with the times in which we live,” said Toni Servillo, who plays the father.
“The behaviour is dictated by an alienating consumerism... It tells us about something interesting from a social point of view but through cinema,” he said.
The festival itself is feeling the pinch this year and hoteliers on the Lido have been complaining they are not booked out as in previous years when rooms would be reserved months in advance by cinema crowds from around the world.
Industry professionals attending Venice said the effects of internet piracy and the contraction of advertising revenues have slashed budgets.
“The market is tough,” said Nawid Sarem, project coordinator for Eye on Films, a France-based global network of film festivals and producers.
Perhaps making a virtue of a necessity given the constraints on funds, the industry is increasingly opening up to and promoting “micro-budget” films.
Venice organisers said they were setting up a Cinema College to encourage up-and-coming low-budget directors and this year’s fest also hosted a competition for shorts submitted via You Tube entitled Your Film Festival.