Venice Festival

   Now regarded as the most important event in the Italian film calendar, the Venice Festival was inaugurated in 1932 when the screening of films was first incorporated into the Venice Biennial Exhibition of the Arts. Although initiated by private tourist operators as a stratagem for attracting more visitors to Venice, it was also strongly supported by the Fascist government through its Institute of Educational Cinema (Istituto del Cinema Educatore) as a way of demonstrating the regime's modern outlook and its openness to the international exchange of ideas.
   Indeed, in its early years the festival was relatively liberal and included not only Hollywood fare such as Rouben Mamoulian's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) and Becky Sharp (1935) but also films of ideological persuasion in contrast with that of the regime, such as Rene Clair's A nous la liberte (Liberty for Us, 1932) and Jean Renoir's antiwar masterpiece, La grande illusion (The Grand Illusion, 1937). The festival proved so popular that in 1935 it was transformed from a biennial to an annual event. However, the regime had been gradually assuming tighter control of the organizational reins and in the wake of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia and the ensuing international boycotts, the festival was reduced to a local and largely European affair, screening and rewarding only films that promulgated the ideology of the German-Italian alliance.
   The festival was discontinued in 1943 due to the war but reinstated in 1946 when it hosted, among others, Roberto Rossellini's Paisa (Paisan, 1946) and Marcel Carne's Les enfants du paradis (Children of Paradise, 1945), with the prize for best film going to Jean Renoir's The Southerner (1945). In 1949 the festival's major prize was officially designated as the Golden Lion and the program was expanded to include special sessions for children's films, short films, and documentaries. In the following years, although often riven with political controversy, it continued to host some of the best national and international films, to highlight and champion particular themes, and to create new categories of award. However, in 1968, echoing what was happening elsewhere in the country, violent protests and demonstrations disrupted the festival, leading organizers to continue the screening of films for the next decade but, with the exception of Golden Lions recognizing the careers of a number of major international directors in 1971-1972, to discontinue the award of prizes.
   The practice of recognizing particular films was resumed in 1980 and new awards recognizing lifetime achievement as well as other categories continued to be introduced in the following years. In 1992 filmmaker Giulio Pontecorvo was installed as artistic director and under his energetic leadership the festival flourished and expanded, confirming its status as one of the great manifestations of world cinema. (A full listing of festival winners is given in the appendix.)
   Historical Dictionary of Italian Cinema by Alberto Mira

Guide to cinema. . 2011.

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