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The first screening of the Venice International Film Festival took place 80 years agao
Eighty years ago, on the 6th of August 1932 at the Lido di Venezia, on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior, the first international film festival in the world – conceived and organized by the Biennale di Venezia – was inaugurated.
At 9:15 PM, on a screen set up outdoors for the occasion, under sporadic rain showers, it began with a showing of Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde by Rouben Mamoulian. The screening was followed by a grand ball in the Excelsior ballroom.
“Stemming directly from the Art Biennale” said the President of the Biennale di Venezia Paolo Baratta today, “the Venice Film Festival was conceived from the very beginning with the sensitivity, richness and mission to present the multiplicity of expression that already distinguished the Art Exhibition. This was the model that inspired Antonio Maraini and Count Volpi (respectively the director and president of the Biennale) to create a film festival. Experimental films by young directors were immediately accepted for the Esposizione Internazionale del film sperimentale a passo ridotto, the international exposition of experimental narrow-gauge films known as the ‘Piccola Biennale’, which was highly acclaimed by critics and audiences alike during the three editions (1934-36) that were held alongside the ‘Grande Biennale’ of Art, Cinema, Music and Theatre. As early as 1938 the Venice International Film Festival organized its first retrospective, dedicated to French cinema, curated by the Venetian critic and scholar Francesco Pasinetti, who was a very young man at the time. The Venice Film Festival soon reached maturity, with a rich variety of sections, initiatives and ideas, a model for all future festivals, with a clear idea, as then-President Count Volpi underlined in his opening speech, of the complexity of cinema, which is both an art and an industry, requiring both a free experimental spirit, and due attention to the requirements of distribution and promotion.”
The year 1932 on the Lido “was a memorable year”, wrote the young critic Michelangelo Antonioni in an article ten years later. Through August 21st, the screen at the Excelsior showed the works of masters such as Mario Camerini (Gli uomini, che mascalzoni…, the first Italian film to be presented, with great success, on August 11th), Frank Capra (Forbidden), René Clair (A nous la liberté), Alexander Dovzhenko (Earth), Edmund Goulding (Grand Hotel), Joris Ivens (Rain), and King Vidor (The Champ). In all, twenty-six films from seven nations.
Only three months earlier, Luciano De Feo, Director of the International Institute of Cinematography, had been commissioned by the Biennale to organize, from the artistic point of view, the first Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, the Venice International Film Festival, which soon became known as La Mostra. A significant contribution to the organization came from Romolo Bazzoni, the Administrative Director of the Biennale.
The members of the Honour Committee included Guglielmo Marconi, Luigi Pirandello, and Louis Lumière, the father of cinema, who sent a letter.
From the very first edition, the films screened on the Lido “by kind concession of the Head of the Government”, could be shown “in the original version and completely uncut”, as the rules required.
In his opening speech, Antonio Maraini declared: “I believe this is the first time that a great Art Exposition opens its gates to cinema.”
Film director Raffaello Matarazzo, then a critic for the Tevere, reported on the inauguration: “One could imagine Lumière hiding in a corner, crying for joy.”
The Venice Film Festival, which became an annual event in 1934, and began to award the Golden Lion for Best Film in 1949, has now reached its 69th edition, which will be held on the Lido from 29 August to 8 September 2012, directed by Alberto Barbera and organized by the Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta.
To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Venice Film Festival, the 69th edition will feature “80!”, a retrospective of ten films (seven feature-length films and three short-to-medium length films) presented during previous Venice Film Festivals. The films have been selected on the basis of their rarity, using and restoring the copies preserved in the Collections of the Historic Archives of the Contemporary Arts (ASAC) of the Biennale.
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