Partly modelled on Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, GdA (which is still often referred to by its initial name of Venice Days in English) was launched in 2004 as an alternative space for independent filmmakers to the star-studded, red-carpet focus of the main festival.
The compact 12-title inaugural edition featured Hubert Sauper’s feature-doc Darwin’s Nightmare, which was later nominated for an Oscar; This Is England director-writer Shaun Meadows’ fifth feature Dead Man’s Shoes and John Lvoff’s drama Now And Then, featuring Julie Depardieu in her first starring role.
Over the past 19 years, the event has expanded to include also special screenings, tributes and talks.
This year’s 10-title Competition line-up includes quirky Canadian teen vampire tale Humanist Vampire Seeking Consenting Suicidal Person; Moroccan road movie Backstage, Spanish adoption drama Foremost By Night, and French drama Sidonie In Paris, in which Isabelle Huppert plays a recently widowed writer who travels to Kyoto.
Out of Competition highlights this year include surprise Céline Sciamma short This Is How A Child Becomes A Poet, Lina Soualem’s bio-doc Bye Bye Tiberius, exploring her mother Hiam Abbass’ journey from her Palestinian village in the Galilee to an international acting career; a tribute to late Canadian director Jean-Marc Vallée, featuring a restored 4K copy of drama C.R.A.Z.Y., which made its European premiere in the section in 2005, and a lifetime achievement award for Luca Guadagnino.
Deadline talked to Artistic Director Gaia Furrer and Delegate General and GdA founder Giorgio Gosetti in the lead-up to the 20th edition
DEADLINE: GdA is partly modelled on Cannes Directors’ Fortnight, but it does not have the same rebellious 1968 beginnings. Can you explain its origins?
GIORGIO GOSETTI: It was a joint proposal from different director associations, including Anac and 100autori, and was created in agreement with then Venice director Marco Müller. He said: “Why not? The critics have a voice with Critics’ Week, it seems only fair for the directors to have one too.” We made the final decision to make it happen during Cannes in 2004. We said, ‘Let’s Go” and managed to pull it together for September 1 of that year.
It was born out of two ideas. The first was to create a meeting place for directors from different cultures and countries and with different cinematic views, where they could show their work, but more importantly talk.
The second, was the Giornate del Cinema, which was launched in the early 1970s in opposition to the establishment running the festival at the time.
Our relationship with the festival has been a lot less conflictual than that of Directors’ Fortnight with Cannes, or the Giornate del Cinema with Venice, but we’re completely autonomous and independent. We raise our own budget and over the years have built our spaces on the Lido such as the Casa degli Autori, in the vein of the Directors’ Fortnight La Malmaison hub, even if today we also have an agreement with the festival to use its Sala Perla for our screenings.
DEADLINE: Do you consult with the festival over the selection?
GOSETTI: Gaia has a great relationship with Alberto Barbera but there’s no bartering over films. We’re, rather, how shall I put it, serenely competitive. And then, it’s also up to the filmmakers.
GAIA FURRER: I don’t ask permission or inform the festival about what we are looking at. We work in total autonomy. Sometimes for Italian titles, we’ll ask if a film we’re interested is on their short list but mainly we work in an atmosphere of friendly competition and we keep our information confidential.
DEADLINE: Giorgio, looking back over your 20 years at the GdA, what have been the biggest developments for directors and the section?
GOSETTI: Something that was already in the air in the early 2000s is that directors are ever more conscious of the fact that they need to find a public and then work hard to speak to their audience. This is different from the tradition of the 1980s and 90s, when it was all about the creative freedom of the director and nothing else.
DEADLINE: Gaia, have any themes or trends emerged out of this year’s selection?
FURRER: One thing we’ve seen is the internationalization of Italian independent cinema. There is one Italian film in Competition and another two playing Out of Competition. They’re all by Italian directors in their early 40s who have decided to shoot outside of Italy, so none of the films is in Italian.
Tommaso Santambrogio’s Oceans Are The Real Continents is a coproduction with Cuba; Edoardo Morabito’s The Outpost was co-produced by Fernando Mereilles in Brazil, and Gianluca Matarrese’s ’LExpérience Zola is co-produced with France. These are films that are pushing boundaries in their production choices as well as artistically.
There is also the pure variety of the films. There are very experimental and cinephile works like the Basque director Victor Iriarte’s Foremost By Night, starring two great Spanish actress Lola Dueñas and Ana Torrent, or the Malaysian film Snow In Midsummer, and then there are works which are a bit more ‘pop’ like Greek film The Summer With Carmen.
A thread running through the selection, which emerged afterwards and was not something we had in mind while pulling it together, is that all the films are asking existential questions. They tell stories about women and men at a crossroad in their lives, facing choices that will impact what they become.
DEADLINE: Can you tell us a bit about the opening film Oceans Are The Real Continents ?
FURRER: It’s a black and white film and an extension a short film of the same name that the director presented at Cannes Critics’ Week. It’s a portrait of Cuba steeped in melancholy and inspired by the country’s unprecedented migration crisis, which has always been there but is currently particularly acute. It follows three different age groups: children, a couple in their thirties and an old lady. They love their country but at the same time dream of leaving.
DEADLINE: Does it tap into the current global debate about mass migration?
FURRER: The question is evoked in the film, but it’s not front and centre. It’s more about the everyday lives of these characters, which are in themselves revealing. It’s not an overtly political film. The Giornate does of course have a tradition of tackling political and ethical themes, and this year is no exception. There is the pre-opening, under-the-radar film about the Iran protests (The Sun Will Rise ) as well as a documentary on the Ukrainian war (Photophonia) and the film with Hiam Abbass about the Palestinian diaspora (Bye Bye Tiberias), while competition film Milk, is about sexual violence.
DEADLINE: Céline Sciamma will present surprise short film This Is How A child Becomes A Poet. Can you tell us a bit more about the work?
FURRER: Céline Sciamma was a guest of the Giornate last year as its jury president and struck up a friendship with another of our guests, the Italian singer Chiara Civello. One evening we all got talking about our shared love of the work of Italian poetess Patrizia Cavalli, who had recently died. Chiara was good friends with Patrizia, while Celine had also met up her. Chiara mentioned that Cavalli’s long-term home in Rome was in the process of being packed up and suggested to Céline that she went to the house to film it before it was sold off.
Céline seized the chance and came to Rome this autumn and spent a day shooting the empty house – 15 marvellous minutes which are presented as a sort of letter to Patrizia Cavalli.
DEADLINE: GdA is showing the short as a double bill with Teona Strugar Mitevska’s 21 Days Until The End Of The World on September 6, followed by a joint Q&A with the directors. What is the thinking behind this event?
FURRER: The two films take very different approaches but are similar in that they are very personal works and were not made with festival screenings in mind. Teona’s film is a self-portrait shot privately over 21 days. The films are almost like two extra-terrestrials, aliens. Céline suggested I call the event “Rebels with a Cause”. She’s right. They are filmmakers who are rebels with very different work but the same objective of moving cinema forward and breaking with the past.
DEADLINE: Did the Hollywood strikes have any impact on your selection process?
FURRER: Not really, our line-up is geographically very diverse and we’re not focused on Hollywood cinema.
GOSSETTI: I’d like to add a personal observation. I think this battle deserves respect. In Europe, we have much more solid copyright protections, for directors, and even for actors. However, cinema has gone through many different phases. There was a time when it was all about the stars, the big divas. Then there was a period when it was all about the films. People went to see Ben Hur, not Charlton Heston. Then there was a focus on directors. For a few years now, thanks to the red carpet effect, there is this idea that cinema is only about the actors, and that without them a film doesn’t exist. Even in this critical time, I think it’s important that cinema continues for all the others who contribute to it, and even the actors, even if they won’t attend red carpets.
DEADLINE: So do you think Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers should have played in Venice as originally planned?
GOSETTI: No, I think that for that film and every film, there are factors that need to be taken into account by the producers. I think Luca Guadagnino could be at once united with his actors and sorry the film won’t play as the opening film. Every case is different.
DEADLINE: In an interview with Deadline earlier this year, Cannes Directors’ Fortnight Artistic Director Julien Rejl said he was trying to select films not already identified by co-production markets or film commissions. What do you think of this approach?
FURRER: It’s already hard enough sticking to films that are world premieres, especially when there are so many great films that have gone to one or two festivals. To then exclude films that have participated in a market or lab doesn’t make sense to me. I think it would be mistake and could even be harmful. These labs are extremely useful for filmmakers. They are a way of finding finance and even closing a project. As the penultimate link in the chain, ahead of a theatrical release, I don’t think we as a festival would be doing a great service to independent cinema. I’m enthusiastic attendee of these sorts of meetings. Last year, we had three, four Middle East and North Africa films in selection which were all scouted via labs.
DEADLINE: Finally, amid the celebrations there is also sadness this year following the sudden death of GdA President Andrea Purgatori. Can you explain who he was and why he was important to the GdA and the wider Italian cinema world?
GOSETTI: Andrea was one of Italy’s greatest investigative journalists. At just 27, he uncovered evidence that a commercial flight which exploded close to the island of Ustica in 1980 was shotdown by military planes by mistake, contrary to the government line that there had been a bomb on board. It was a Watergate moment in Italy. [The unexplained downing of Itavia Flight 870 is known as the Ustica Massacre in Italy.]
He wrote a screenplay based on his experiences on this investigation which became Marco Risi’s The Invisible Wall [Il Muro Di Gomma]. It was among a number screenplays he wrote across his career as well as a bestselling thriller (Quattro piccole ostriche).
Another of his famous investigations was into the disappearance of teenager Emanuela Orlandi, which was recently the subject of a Netflix series [Vatican Girl]. He never stopped investigating that case.
Andreas was also a passionate defender of authors’ rights and was the president of SAIE (Italian Society Of Authors and Publishers), before accepting the presidency of the Giornate. He was also a friend.