The 2021 Venice Film Festival Roars On – This Year’s Line-Up Rocks
by Alex Billington
September 1, 2021
Back down to the beautiful country of Italy. Back into the world of cinema. Back into the city of canals. It’s time for to kick off the 78th Venice Film Festival, which continues in 2021 as the only festival that never once took a break during the COVID-19 pandemic. I stopped by Venice last year during the 2020 edition, which was a more low key event with strict pandemic restrictions in place in. The 2021 edition also includes these same rules – masks required, 50% capacity venues with reserved seats, vaccination proof required or negative tests every day – but with much more anticipation as they are following in the footsteps of Cannes trying to return to business as usual. Most importantly, the festival’s fanastic selection of films is the reason we’re all here, and it’s as promising as ever. New films from Edgar Wright, Jane Campion, Paolo Sorrentino, Denis Villeneuve, Ana Lily Amirpour, Paul Schrader, Pablo Larrain, Ridley Scott, and many others. Let’s go.
I’ve been attending the Venice Film Festival ever since moving to Berlin in 2016, and this is my fifth year returning to cover it. The festival goes under a few different names: Venezia (the suggested social media hashtag is #Venezia78), Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia (the official Italian name), or just La Biennale (the organization that puts on the fest). Venice is also the oldest festival in the world – now in its 78th year, just ahead of Cannes & Berlin. Each year I rave about how much I enjoy this fest, not only because it takes place in this incomparably gorgeous place, but also for all the stirring discoveries and the experience of watching films in the many venues on the Lido. Spending so much time at home watching everything on my TV for the last year has made me seriously miss watching movies in a real venue on a really big screen. No matter what anyone claims, there is a difference between watching films at home and in a cinema. The entire experience is different. Having dedicated at least half of my life to movies (running this blog since 2006), it’s obvious I have a critical connection with the big screen.
This is always what draws me back to Venice: to be with my friends again, to catch up with colleagues and argue about films all day long, and to experience and enjoy films together at the festival, and to discover new filmmakers and be moved by cinematic stories. Venice is a beautiful town to visit, but we’re here to work! We’re here to watch films all day, every day, for two weeks. Hopefully the festival has brought us some great movies that we can all rave about, but you never know. We’re here to find out. The start of the Venice Film Festival is also the official start of the fall movie season, including two other major festivals running back-to-back: the Telluride Film Festival (Sept 2-6) and Toronto Film Festival (Sept 10-19). Both of which are returning to in-person screenings this year. The most powerful move is for a film to play at all three fests, which is usually a rare feat, but when that happens it usually means it’s really something to watch. This year it might be The Power of the Dog – it’s Jane Campion’s latest feature film since making Bright Star in 2009.
My most anticipated at Venice is Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, of course, but this is a big premiere. It almost seems so big and so epic that it doesn’t really fit in at a film festival, but I’ll take it anyway. The spice must flow!! Beyond that one, there’s plenty of other interesting films I’m very, very excited to see: Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Power of the Dog (just watch this teaser!), Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, Ana Lily Amirpour’s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, Ridley Scott’s The Last Duel, Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter, Michel Franco’s Sundown, and Mohamed Diab’s Amira (he directed the superb contained thriller Clash a few years back that takes place entirely inside the back of an Egyptian police paddywagon). There’s also a trio of new documentaries that are showing in Venice: Becoming Led Zeppelin, about the rock band’s success; Django & Django, about the classic Italian spaghetti western hero; and Ennio from director Giuseppe Tornatore about the legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone.
For more info about the festival and to view the entire line-up of films playing at Venice 2021, visit their website. This also includes short films and a VR section, along with all of the feature films. There’s also the Venice Days and Venice Critics’ Week sidebars showcasing more films in conjunction with the main festival.
With the Venice Film Festival now underway, I’ll be dedicated entirely to the festival and the films here for the next two weeks. Venice 2021 runs from September 1st until September 11th, ending Saturday night with the awards. Follow my daily coverage and instant reactions on Twitter as usual @firstshowing, follow my photography updates as always on Instagram @abillington, follow my reviews on Letterboxd, and check the site for daily updates on films + reviews. Back in 2016, I wrote an essay about Why I Can’t Stop Going to Film Festivals. What I said then is still true. It always is. I’m still totally addicted film festivals, and they still fill me with so much life and energy. I’m really looking forward to watching most of the films in the line-up this year, including random docs that I haven’t even heard about before arriving at the fest. I’m so glad to be back, so excited to start watching, hopeful that this year in Venice will be another memorable one.