Venice 2012: Documentary Overview

Yesterday marked the start of the 69th edition of the Venice International Film Festival, notable as the oldest film festival in the world. Running through September 8, the festival comes right before Toronto, and many titles appear in both events. Unlike TIFF, Venice is competitive, with eighteen titles in the main competition, and additional prizes awarded to films screening in the Orizzonti section.

Notably contained for a major international cinema event, the festival’s lineup includes just over 100 new features – 69 in the official selection, and an additional 39 presented in the autonomous sections selected by independent film associations. Retrospectives and shorts fill out the schedule, but it’s a far cry from the nearly 300 films presented in Toronto. Venice isn’t really known for its non-fiction programming, which is comprised of less than 30 new doc features. None appear in the official competition, special screenings, or the autonomous International Critics’ Week. The majority are included in the out of competition section, the retrospective Venice Classics, and in the autonomous Venice Days – and, frankly, most seem strictly of local interest. Still, I’d love to go to Venice at some point, and if I were there now, there are some docs I’d want to check out:

Screening in the out of competition section, noted as a place for the work of established fest alums, are Hinde Boujemaa’s IT WAS BETTER TOMORROW, focusing on a Tunisian woman’s attempt to take care of her family, against the backdrop of a revolution; Daniele Vicari’s THE HUMAN CARGO (pictured), an exploration of an incident in 1991 when 20,000 Albanians took over a merchant ship and forced it to take them to Italy in hope of a better future; Daniele Incalcaterra and Fausta Quattrini’s EL IMPENETRABLE, in which the filmmaker deals with complications stemming from the inheritance of a parcel of Paraguayan forest; and Spike Lee’s BAD 25, also screening at TIFF, a celebration of the 25th anniversary of Michael Jackson’s seminal album.

The festival’s Orrizonti section, highlighting “new trends in world cinema,” includes just one doc out of its eighteen offerings: Wang Bing’s observational portrait, THREE SISTERS (pictured), also at TIFF. The Venice Classics section does the half dozen documentaries it screens few favors, given that its name signals its focus on retrospective programming – nestled among the 17 restored fiction features included here are six new docs and one classic doc. Of the new work, it’s largely focused on appreciations or bios of film-related individuals – some very local, a few more universally known. Only two films really caught my eye: Francesco Patierno’s TIFF-bound THE BATTLE OF THE VOLCANOES, about the dueling film productions starring two of Roberto Rossellini’s lovers; and Michael Singh’s VALENTINO’S GHOST, a cinematic essay on the history of Arab and Muslim representation in US film.

Switching over to the autonomous Venice Days, modeled after Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, a dozen non-fiction features screen. In addition to Sarah Polley’s debut doc STORIES WE TELL, another TIFF selection, there are four titles that sound intriguing: Vincenzo Marra’s THE TRIPLET (IL GEMELLO), a portrait of a man who’s spent nearly have his life in prison; Giada Colagrande’s BOB WILSON´S LIFE AND DEATH OF MARINA ABRAMOVIC (pictured), documenting the collaboration which created an experimental opera based on the performance artist’s life; Masbedo’s TRALALÀ, a non-traditional portrait of Iceland which originated as an installation created by two video artists; and Andrea Parena’s AUGUST WEDDING (NOZZE D´AGOSTO), which follows a small group of Italian wedding planners.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews

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