The Oldest Film Festival in the World

Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia, or as it is more commonly known, The Venice International Film Festival, founded in 1932, predates the other two film festivals that are often referred to as “The Big Three.”  The Cannes Film Festival began in 1939, but had only one festival before WWII interrupted it until 1946. The Berlin International Film Festival is a relative newcomer, premiering in 1951.


The opulent interior of the Doge’s Palace which hosted Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia in the immediate post war years.

This year marks the film festival’s 73rd edition and is part of the Venice Biennale, which was founded by the Venetian City Council in 1895. Today, the Biennale includes a range of separate events including: the International Art Exhibition; the International Festival of Contemporary Music; the International Theatre Festival; the International Architecture Exhibition; the International Festival of Contemporary Dance; the International Kids’ Carnival; and the annual Venice Film Festival, the best-known of all of the events.

The film festival now takes place at the end of August and into September on the island of Lido in Venice. Major screenings take place in the historic Palazzo del Cinema on the Lungomare Marconi and other screening take place in other venues nearby. Since its inception the Film Festival has become the most prestigious international film festival in the world.

The first edition of the Venice Film Festival took place from August 621 in 1932, but given the now traditional vacation time of Ferragosto, it was deemed prudent to create this world-class event to finish the summer.


Conte Giuseppe Volpi di Musurata who came up with the idea for the film festival.

The festival idea is credited to the president of the Venice Biennale, Conte Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata and to Luciano De Feo, who was the very first director-selector. It was the first international event of its type and received strong support from the powers in Rome. The first edition of this annual event was held on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido.  The first festival was not a competitive event. The very first film to be shown in the history of the Festival was Rouben Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which hit the screen on August 6, 1932.

The second edition was held two years later, from August 120 in 1934. For the first time it included a competition. 19 countries took part with over 300 journalists attending. The “Mussolini Cup” was introduced for best foreign film and best Italian film; however there was no actual jury. Instead, the awards were assigned by the President of the Biennale, after listening to the opinions provided by both experts and audiences alike. Other awards were the “Great Gold Medals of the National Fascist Association for Entertainment” to best actor and actress. The prize for best foreign film went to Robert J. Flaherty’s Man of Aran and began the tendency of the festival to select films that were so strongly influenced by its filmmaker as to be thought of as to be “authored” by them.

Starting in 1935, the Festival became a yearly event under the direction of Ottavio Croze. The actors’ award was renamed “Volpi Cup.” In 1936 an international jury was nominated for the first time and in 1937 the new Cinema Palace, designed by the architect Luigi Quagliata, was inaugurated.

The 1940s represent one of the most difficult decades to review for the festival. The conclusion of the Second World War divided the decade in two, political pressures mounted in the later 1930s and distorted the real meaning of the festival. During WWII, the situation degenerated to a point where the events held in 1940-1942 tend to be ignored when examining the rich history of the festival. Conducted far from Lido, only a few countries participated.  The only institutions and directors that were allowed to submit films were those that were members of the Rome-Berlin Axis.

After those disastrous years, the festival resumed in 1946. This marked the first time that the festival was held during the month of September. This was based upon an agreement with the newly resumed Cannes Film Festival, which had just held its first review in the spring of that year. With that, Venice once again became a great icon of the film world.

In 1947 the festival was held at the Doge’s Palace, a most magnificent backdrop for hosting a record 90,000 attendees, one of the greatest editions in the history of the festival.

For the next twenty years the festival continued its development and expansion in accordance with the artistic plan set in motion after the war.

In 1963, winds of change were upon Luigi Chiarini’s directorship of the festival. During the years of his presidency, Chiarini attempted to renew both the spirit and the structures of the festival, pushing for a total reorganization. For six years the festival followed a consistent path. It would not waver from the rigid criteria put in place for the selection of works in competition. It also took a firm stand against both political pressures and interference from movie studios. It sought to present artistic quality films over the broader commercial products of the film industry.

The social and political unrest of 1968 had strong repercussions on the Venice Bienniale. From 1969 to 1979 no prizes were awarded and the festival returned to the non-competitiveness of the first edition. In 1973, 1977 and 1978, the festival was not even held. The Golden Lion didn’t make its return until 1980.

The long-awaited rebirth came in 1979, thanks to the new director Carlo Lizzani, who decided to restore the image and value the festival had lost over the previous decade. The 1979 edition laid the foundation for the restoration of international prestige. In an attempt to create a more modern image of the festival, the director created a committee of experts to assist in selecting the works and to increase the diversity of submissions to the festival.

This year, the 73rd annual Venice International Film Festival is scheduled to be held from August 31September 10.

Among the films in this year’s completion are:

  • American Anarchist directed by Charlie Siskel and produced in the U.S.
  • Assault to the Sky directed by Francesco Munzi and produced in Italy.
  • The Bleeder directed by Philippe Falardeau, produced in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson, produced in the U.S. and Australia.
  • I Called Him Morgan directed by Kasper Collin, produced in Sweden and the U.S.
  • The Magnificent Seven directed by Antoine Fuqua, produced in the U.S.
  • Monte directed by Amir Naderi, produced in Italy, U.S. and France.
  • Our War directed by Claudio Jampaglia and Benedetta Argentieri, produced in Italy and U.S.
  • Tommaso directed by Kim Rossi Stuart, produced in Italy.
  • The Young Pope directed by Paolo Sorrentino, produced in Italy, France, Spain, U.K. and the U.S.

Sorrentino, from Naples, achieved international acclaim in 2004 for his thriller, The Consequences of Love (Le conseguenze dell’amore). It won numerous international awards. His political biopic, Il Divo, based on the controversial Italian politician Giulio Andreotti, also won many awards. This Must Be the Place marked his first English-language feature. His 2013 film, The Great Beauty won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It was Sorrentino’s second English-language film. His newest film is among the most highly anticipated of the year and the festival.

Venice remains one of the premiere destinations in Italy. Its beauty, history, setting, culture and events have few rivals on the planet. During the month of September, weather is ideal and it creates the perfect venue for this internationally renowned event.

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