Venice 2019: Documentary Overview

The 76th Venice International Film Festival

August 28-September 7

Between its official selection and two autonomous sidebars, the world’s oldest film festival showcases just over 30 documentaries among its 100+ offerings.


As in the past, nonfiction is virtually absent from the event’s main competition, claiming only one slot among more than 20: Franco Maresco’s THE MAFIA IS NO LONGER WHAT IT USED TO BE, a look at modern-day Sicily through the contrasting views of a photographer who exposed the Mafia and a “connected” music impresario.


Documentaries instead claim half of the lineup of the Out of Competition section, with work such as: Alex Gibney’s CITIZEN K, about Russian dissident Mikhail Khodorkovsky; Lauren Greenfield’s THE KINGMAKER, on Imelda Marcos’ unlikely comeback to Philippine politics; Sergei Loznitsa’s STATE FUNERAL, which explores Stalin’s cult of personality through the Soviet leader’s funeral; Alexander Nanau’s COLECTIV, an investigation into corruption in Romanian state agencies; Sean Evans and Roger Waters’ concert film ROGER WATERS: US + THEM; and Tim Robbins’ 45 SECONDS OF LAUGHTER, about a prison theatre workshop.


Other nonfiction or hybrids in Venice’s official slate includes, in the forward-focused Orizzonti competition, Oskar Alegria’s ZUMRIKI, a diary film in which the director seeks out his old childhood haunts; and, in the film history-focused Venice Classics, among others, Alexandre O Philippe’s LEAP OF FAITH, which explores William Friedkin’s THE EXORCIST, and Andrey A Tarkovsky’s ANDREY TARKOVSKY. A CINEMA PRAYER, a personal look at the famed Russian director’s life; and, in the catch-all Sconfini section, Graeme A Scott and Buddy Squires’ BEYOND THE BEACH: THE HELL AND THE HOPE, which follows the medical personnel who help victims of war as part of an Italian NGO.


Outside of the official fest lineup are a few docs in the autonomous International Film Critics Week and Venice Days. The former offers Ascanio Petrini’s hybrid TONY DRIVER, about an Italian who grew up in America but now faces life back in Puglia after being deported; while the latter includes Jared P Scott’s THE GREAT GREEN WALL, about a plan to combat climate change in Africa; P David Ebersole and Todd Hughes’ HOUSE OF CARDIN, on legendary fashion designer Pierre Cardin; Mario Sesti’s MONDO SEXY, an exploration of 1960s’ sexual exploitation films; and Gianfranco Pannone and Ambrogio Sparagna’s SCHERZA CON I FANTI, an expansive meditation on Italy’s relationship with the military and power.

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Filed under Documentary, Film, Film Festivals, Overviews, Recommendations

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