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The controversial relationship between Italian Film Authors and Film Festivals

The controversial relationship between Italian Film Authors and Film Festivals

By Antonio Falduto

According to a number of critics such as Bazin, the actor had been the central icon of the festival showcase until 1968. The director was merely a supplementary figure; even less exposed to the media than the producers. However, the outbreak of student protests in 1968 overthrew this hierarchy.


Film directors stepped into the festival limelight when they protested by not presenting their films at the Festivals of Cannes and Venice. The picture of Godard, Truffaut, Lizzani, Bertolucci and Rossellini standing in front of the Palazzo del Cinema in Venice as Chinese Red Guards, is still proudly hanging in the ANAC (The Italian Film Authors Association) office in Rome.

Clear evidence that this cultural supremacy is on-going today can be found in the fact that the more specialized movie goers, the so called cinèphiles, now go more to see a film by… rather then a film with…

The film director isn’t the only new actor playing on the festival stage; from the late 60’s the film festival director became another key figure. It’s important to highlight that film festival directors were only in charge of the film selection from the early 70’s. Before that, the films were selected by each of the countries producer associations. The director was merely a marginal figure of the local film industry and government.

After political and professional recognition, the identity of a festival has not only been defined by its cultural, historical and geographical background but also by the festival director’s aesthetics and policies. The rise and struggle in terms of power and identity between film authors and film festival directors gave way to the new phase of the festival history.

In the not so secret agenda of the Venice Film Festival there was an unwritten rule: a film director should be director of the Festival every 4 or 8 years. Carlo Lizzani, Gillo Pontecorvo and Felice Laudadio are all film directors or screenwriters who directed the “Mostra” in Venice. As film directors took over the festival throne, they changed the role of the festival director. It’s a matter of ego; they couldn’t stand staying behind the curtain, they had to step onto the stage, just as they used to do when they were introducing their own films.

They dared to do what the Cannes Festival direc-tor, Thierry Fremaux, never dared to do. He usually accompanied all the guests as far as the entrance of the cinema but he never climbed onto the stage except for in some very particular cases. This was a wise move to have made, as a film festival director presenting a film in competition and neglecting another one was an un-conceivable and unprofessional move. The film directors running festivals as directors broke this tradition and they started to present all the films that they had selected. Even today it’s normal to see film directors trotting from one cinema to another, sweating and cursing because they are late…

Film directors changed festival procedure to suit their own needs and then they took over all the key roles. They centralized the power, making all the most important and marginal decisions, such as; selecting the opening trailer, choosing the ceremony guests, and the festival venues. The face of a festival became the face of its’ director, they personalized the festivals.

The increasing power of the film director required his brilliant performance on the festival stage. As with all icons of the show business the film directors’ private and professional life have occupied a frontal position in the medias’ attention. They represent the film, critics love to interview them, they are the only ones who can step on stage to present the film and when they win awards they hold their prize as a king would hold his crown. They are the main stars of a ritual that desperately needs new icons and myths and can’t help having them as deus ex machina of the event. They became unique and irreplaceable.

I have never attended an international film festival competition where the film director wasn’t there. Actually, it did happen once, when the Iranian director, Asghar Farhadi, couldn’t be in Cannes to pick up his prize because he was imprisoned for his political engagement, his case still has a strong media resonance.

Film directors are now treated by the festival as their own precious creature. Festivals love to discover new talent, they nourish them, they promote their films and help them to make new ones. Berlinale Talent campus and Film Fund in Berlin, Cinema du Monde and La Semaine de la Critique in Cannes and finally the new fund for post- production Venice La Biennale, demonstrate this attitude to tie the new promising directors to the festival label, but this process has its own risks.

We can suspect that a film that has a festival as its patron is in a better position for being shortlisted by the festival selectors. On the other hand, will another festival, driven by natural competition, be keen to select a film born and bred by someone else?

Another example of the new power of film directors in the festival hierarchy is found when we analyse festival sections directly run by the film authors. The Directors Fortnight in Cannes, established in 1969, run by SRF (Societè des Realisateurs de Films), runs at a specific venue in Cannes in order to define its presence and new found power. It functions metaphorically as the shelter of the creators. Indeed this section itself isn’t just a showcase of films; it’s a part of a much more sophisticated French cultural policy. The SRF activity runs all year and its’ programme includes debates and discussions on various topics. Its blog provides important information and news on Cinema. It is the web headquarters of the French and international “Auteurs”.

Moreover the directors of La Quinzaine or la Semaine don’t have to follow the strict procedures that the official selection films are required to follow (just think about the strict dress code for the official selection screenings), so they have decided to change the ritual. Most of them now introduce the films calling the entire crew on stage and sometimes they even run the Q&A. Following this experience, a few years ago the former director of La Biennale Marco Muller, suggested that a few film directors such as myself set up a similar section in Venice La Biennale. This proposal was based on the idea that a film festival should be a flexible and interactive event. It also filled the real need that Italian authors had to experience the most important Italian Film Festival not just as an occasion to show and see their own films but also, as a physical place where filmmakers could meet and discuss.

In 2006 the two Italian Film Authors Associations set up Le Giornate degli Autori/Venice Days, appointing Giorgio Gosetti as its director. His first step was to find the authors venue and he found a villa near the Biennale Palace. It was a place where the authors and the audience could meet, discuss ideas, argue and drink good wine… It was a new physical place dedicated to interaction.

This successful experience shows that film festivals are not a monolithic structure but rather that they have to adapt themselves to fit the evolution of the medias, aesthetic values and current cultural needs.

The new, secular rituals performed by the film festival directors have reinforced the frail relationship between cinema and myth, just as Bazin, Morin and Campbell have analysed in depth. However, this isn’t a long-term guarantee.

In order to allow festivals to survive the festival directors are obliged to extend the border of the festival, physically and conceptually. Festival screenings are more and more wide- spread in the cities or even in other countries (Rome hosts Cannes, Locarno and Venice special selections) and format and contents are redefining the festival itself.

Therefore experts in other fields are welcomed to integrate the festival programme and structure. Artists are called to design logos, photographers to show their work, politicians and journalists join juries, debates, discussions and they never miss an opening and closing ceremony.

However, what degree of contamination from society and the other arts can the festival tolerate without losing its’ identity, that being an identity of an event dedicated to cinema itself?

These are issues that perhaps need to be addressed specifically for each festival, but they are problems that nonetheless require urgent answers. The track record of the most recent international film festivals, like that of Rome, is exemplary. Born in 2006 through political will, the brainchild of Mayor Walter Veltroni, (after all, all festivals are born with political purposes) the ‘festa’ that was the Rome Film Festival was, exactly that, more of a popular cultural and social event than a festival. Due to this it was criticised but nonetheless its formula worked. The following year it became a real festival with international ambitions, including a large film market, generously bankrolled by the organisers. This decision aroused the ire of the Venice Biennale organizers; they deemed that hosting two international festivals of cinema in Italy was a suicidal cultural promotion.

The organizers of the festival in Rome survived the political challenges but today they are faced with another dilemma: the festival has a model that attracts the public and a good program, but not even the charisma of the new director, Marco Muller, has been able to give the festival a clear direction. With its identity in crisis, an identity, which could be described as a melange of movies and stars, there more for the entertainment pages than for culture.

What to do? It has been proposed the film festival should merge with the fiction TV film festival that happens a few months earlier. In this way they hope to distinguish the new trends in cinema, because they are sure that cinema, TV and all other audiovisual formats are going to merge their content under one hybrid, media blanket. For some this is very provoking, for others it is an urgent cultural challenge. The only ones that remain silent are the directors, and the risk is that one day they will discover that they have merely become “content providers” for the new hybrid media who will have full control and influence over the contents itself.