Venice may seem like a sleepy city steeped in history, but the art scene is alive, kicking and contemporary. This is showcased every other year during both the Venice Biennale, a big contemporary art festival that takes over the city in odd-numbered years, and on an annual basis at the Venice Film Festival. As part of the Venice Biennale, the Venice Film Festival usually takes place in late August to early September and draws famous actors and filmmakers from around the globe.
Venice’s Film Festival is the world’s oldest international film festival (it began in 1932) and the festival’s top prize (the Golden Lion, or “Leone d’Oro”) for best film has become a coveted award. The festival itself takes place on the Venice Lido, a stretch of land connected to the mainland and famous for its sandy beaches, which means the bulk of the star-gazing takes place away from the Venetian islands. Having said that, the stars certainly take advantage of the festival’s location and wander Venice’s beautiful canal-side sidewalks. Thus, even if you don’t head out to the Lido, you stand a good chance of seeing some famous faces on the islands during the festival.
The Golden Lion award is a reference to Venice’s patron saint, Saint Mark, whose symbol – the lion – is seen everywhere in the city. Past winners of the Golden Lion award include Sofia Coppola (“Somewhere”), Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain” and “Lust, Caution”), Wim Wenders (“The State of Things”), Tom Stoppard (“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead”), Darren Aronofsky (“The Wrestler”), and Mira Nair (“Monsoon Wedding”). Other awards include the Silver Lion (“Leone d’Argento”) for best director and the Volpi Cup (“Coppa Volpi”) for best actor and actress.
Visitors don’t have to content themselves with playing paparazzi; if you’re a serious movie buff, why not get tickets to one of the screenings? Not every film is shown to the general public, but there are public screenings available throughout the festival and listed in the program.
You can buy tickets or festival passes online in advance by going to Venice on the official Biennale website (although they’re only available a month or so before the festival begins), or wait to see what’s available when you arrive in Venice – any available tickets are on sale at the box office starting the day before each screening. Ticket prices range from 10-40 Euro per person, depending on the time of the showing.
It’s worth mentioning that films are shown in their original language – foreign films are subtitled in Italian, and only the Italian films are subtitled in English, so that may narrow your choices somewhat. Also note that you must be over 18 to attend a screening, so this isn’t one for the kids.