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Venice Film Festival gears up to award masked Golden Lion winner

There are 18 films in the running for the top award

Cate Blanchett, centre, is jury president at this year's Venice Film Festival Getty
Cate Blanchett, centre, is jury president at this year's Venice Film Festival Getty

The Venice Film Festival will present its coveted Golden Lion award on Saturday after a competition marked by face masks and missing stars but billed as a relaunch of global cinema, which has been bruised by the coronavirus crisis.

Throughout the 11-day event on the glitzy beachfront Lido, elbow bumps replaced handshakes, audiences were masked and the red carpet was eerily devoid of screaming fans.

The 77th iteration of the festival has taken place in a year when theatres have been closed, film sets shut down and moviegoers forced to embrace streaming video at home, during months of restricitons imposed because of the outbreak.

Many directors saluted the festival's organisers for going ahead with the event.

"The Venice Film Festival has given us the opportunity and the privilege to start dreaming again," Italian director Emma Dante said in Ciak magazine, distributed daily at the festival.

Leading contenders among the 18 films vying for the top prize include Michel Franco's Nuevo Orden (New Order), a dystopian view of Mexico, Gianfranco Rosi's documentary Notturno, filmed on the borders of Syria, Quo Vadis, Aida? by Bosnia's Jasmila Zbanic about the 1995 Srebrenica massacre and Dear Comrades from veteran Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky, a film about the 1962 shooting of striking factory workers in the USSR by the army.

The last entry in the competition lineup to have its premiere was the much-anticipated Nomadland by US director Chloe Zhao, starring Frances McDormand – one of the few films from the US at the festival and which received sustained applause during its earlier press screening.

Normally attended by more than 10,000 film industry executives, critics, journalists and moviegoers, the festival was the first major international movie competition to go ahead after others around the world, including its main rival, the Cannes Film Festival, were cancelled.

Venice festival director Alberto Barbera called the event "a sort of test" for the film industry, which is slowly regaining its footing, with some production resuming and cinemas reopening, even as the number of Covid-19 cases continue to increase in many parts of the world.

Scroll through our gallery above to see more photos from the last day of the festival.

In Italy, the festival was also viewed as a sign of hope and normalcy for a country hit hard by the pandemic.

Nevertheless, big-budget blockbusters that have had premieres in Venice in years past were missing, as was the bevy of Hollywood A-listers, who have fans screaming for autographs on the sidelines of the red carpet.

FILE - Actress Tilda Swinton wears a mask as she sits in the auditorium during the opening ceremony of the 77th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, on Sept. 2, 2020. This year, three of the four major fall film festivals, including Venice, are going forward despite the pandemic. Those in Venice acknowledge it hasn’t been anywhere near the same. Masked moviegoers in set-apart seats. A barrier walls off the red carpet to discourage crowds of onlookers. Greetings are kiss-less. A little bit of the romance of movies has gone out. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)
Actress Tilda Swinton wears a mask as she sits in the auditorium during the opening ceremony of the 77th Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy. AP Photo

Instead, the 2020 version was decidedly low-key, with about half the usual number of people in attendance, fewer films and seating in theatres that was staggered to respect physical distancing rules.

Masks were mandatory, hand sanitiser bountiful, people had their temperatures taken when they entered the festival grounds and ubiquitous red signs warned people to respect the anti-coronavirus measures.

Still, organisers said the scaled-down event offered a diverse panorama of cinema today, with 50 countries represented in the line-up.

Of the contenders for the top prize, eight were directed by women, which some people hope reflects a new direction for festivals after criticism over a lack of gender diversity.

Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Scarlett Johansson were among those to have supplied the celebrity panache at last year's festival.

But travel restrictions – especially a travel ban from the USt into Europe – mean most big Hollywood names were no-shows this year, along with actors and directors from China, India and South America.

VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 11: Director of 77 Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica Alberto Barbera and Cate Blanchett are seen at Campari Boat Cinema ““Mrs America”” mini-series screening during 77 Venice Film Festival on September 11, 2020 in Venice, Italy. (Photo by Ernesto S. Ruscio/Getty Images for Campari)
Director of the 77th Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica Alberto Barbera and Cate Blanchett at the Venice Film Festival. Getty Images

However, Cate Blanchett, as jury president, provided some much-needed star power, telling an opening night audience that the festival's launch seemed to be "some kind of wonderous miracle".

"The way is uncertain, but tonight is a beginning," she said.

As well as Blanchett, the judges are US actor Matt Dillon, Austrian director Veronika Franz, British director Joanna Hogg, Italian writer Nicola Lagioia, German director Christian Petzold and French actress Ludivine Sagnier.

Last year, Joker, by US director Todd Phillips, took home the Golden Lion and Roman Polanski won the runner-up Grand Jury Prize for An Officer and a Spy.

Updated: September 13, 2020 06:28 PM

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