ROME – The Venice Film festival will launch with a bang this year as the techno-thriller Gravity starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as astronauts stranded in outer space opens the 70th edition of the world’s oldest festival, organizers announced Thursday.
Twenty films will vie for the coveted Golden Lion, including Terry Gilliam’s The Zero Theorem starring Christoph Waltz and Matt Damon, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin featuring Scarlett Johansson, Stephen Frears’ Philomena with Judi Dench and Joe starring Nicolas Cage.
Representing Canada, Xavier Dolan’s Tom a la Ferme also earned a spot in the prestigious competition.
Gravity is among 17 films showing out of competition in the festival that runs from Aug. 28 to Sept. 7.
The festival lineup is strong on auteur films but light on film fest blockbusters, a delicate point for festival organizers competing with Cannes, which shows in the spring, and Toronto, which overlaps with Venice.
“Venice on paper takes more risks, for example, taking two documentaries in competition, a first by any festival, and organizing an auteur cinema to support and promote these films,” festival director Alberto Barbera told a news conference. Barbera said he would have loved to show films by Jim Jarmusch or the Coen brothers, who premiered Only Lovers Left Alive and Inside Llewyn Davis, respectively, in Cannes — but they weren’t available.
“The names working today are not so many and since they were all in Cannes, Venice had to make do with what was ready and available in this period of the year,” Barbera said.
The festival features 53 new feature films, all but two world premieres, with 33 countries represented in the overall selection, which also includes sections on new trends and short films. Five U.S., four British and three Italian films are competing for the Golden Lion, which will be decided by a jury headed by Oscar-winning director Bernardo Bertolucci.
The lineup includes film by three Oscar-winning directors: Hayao Miyazaki with an animated film about a Japanese fighter plane designer and Errol Morris with a documentary about former U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld —both in competition — and Poland’s Andrzej Wajda with a movie depicting the life of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, showing out of competition. The other documentary in competition is Gianfranco Rosi’s Sacro GRA, about life on the highway that rings Rome.
Three previous Golden Lion winners are returning to the Lido. They include Italy’s Gianni Amelio with L’intrepido, or The Intrepid, and Taiwan-based director Tsai Ming-liang with Stray Dogs, both in competition. Last year’s winner Kim Ki-duk premieres Moebius, his follow-up to Pieta that has generated controversy at home in South Korea for its graphic content.