Venice film fest attracts top names despite Hollywood strikes

By Crispian Balmer

(Reuters) – Venice presented a powerful line-up on Tuesday for its forthcoming film festival, defying fears its 80th edition would be a washout because of strikes by Hollywood actors and writers.


Although many stars will miss the traditional red carpet openings for big studio productions, Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera still managed to attract a slew of top movies to the Lido.

New films by directors including Bradley Cooper, Yorgos Lanthimos, David Fincher, Michael Mann, Sofia Coppola, Ava DuVernay and Wes Anderson will all debut at the event, which runs from Aug. 30-Sept. 9.

The festival will also court controversy by giving prominence to Woody Allen, Roman Polanski and Luc Besson, three directors hit by #MeToo scandals who have been cold-shouldered by many industry figures over the past decade.

All three have repeatedly denies the accusations against them. Besson was cleared last month.

The world’s oldest film festival, regarded as a launchpad for Oscar contenders as awards season approaches, features movies from 55 countries, including 23 titles running for the prestigious Golden Lion award.

Barbera said that despite uncertainty surrounding the actors’ strike only one title had been pulled from the expected line-up – the planned opening tennis drama “Challengers”, directed by Luca Guadagnino and starring Zendaya.

The SAG-AFTRA guild called the strike this month after failing to reach an agreement with studios on a new three-year contract. Guild members are not permitted to engage in any promotional activity for their films.

Barbera said he hoped stars of smaller independent movies would be able to publicise their work in person regardless of the stoppage. “So we hope the red carpet is not as empty as some people had been predicting,” he said.


Among the most eagerly awaited films will be the Netflix drama “Maestro”, about the composer Leonard Bernstein, directed by and starring Cooper, who brought his directorial debut “A Star is Born” to Venice in 2018.

Two other biopics will also vie for attention on the lido — Coppola’s “Priscilla”, which is based on the memoirs of Elvis Presley’s wife and stars Cailee Spaeny, and “Ferrari”, directed by Mann. It stars Adam Driver as famed Italian carmaker Enzo Ferrari and Penelope Cruz as his wife.

Only five women directors will present in the main competition, with DuVernay making history as the first African American woman competing for the Golden Lion with her movie “Origin”, which dissects racism in the United States.

Among the other big pictures likely to cause a buzz are Lanthimos’ surrealist science fiction comedy-drama “Poor Things”, which stars Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo — neither of whom will be able to walk the red carpet because of the strike.

Besson, who was cleared in June of rape charges levelled against him in 2018 by an actress, will present his latest film “Dogman” for the top award.

Both Allen, with his French language picture “Coup De Chance”, and Polanski, with “The Palace” will show out of competition.

Anderson will also show out-of-competition with his 40-minute Netflix comedy “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”, based on a Roald Dahl short story and starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Ralph Fiennes, Dev Patel and Ben Kingsley.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alison Williams)