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Venice Film Festival President Alberto Barbera Remains Hopeful Despite SAG-AFTRA Strikes


The glitz and glamour may be dampened a little at the 80th edition of the Venice Film Festival as the SAG-AFTRA strikes continue, but president Alberto Barbera is more than hopeful. In a conversation with Vogue Arabia, the longest serving director of the festival and a certified cinephile reveals that everything is going spectacularly in Lido.

After 15 years at the helm of the oldest film festival in the world, Barbera certainly has a lot to share, from emotional anecdotes featuring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman, to advice on starting a career in film, and the relationship between fashion and film. Below, discover everything that the Italian film critic had to say on the first day of the annual celebration, which runs this year from August 30 – September 9, 2023.

Penélope Cruz wearing a Cartier neckpiece at Venice Film Festival 2022. Photo:

It’s the third year that Cartier is partnering with the festival. How did this collaboration start and how is it been going so far?

We have some big sponsors every year. For example, if I remember well, the sponsorship from Jaeger-LeCoultre, which is part of the same group, lasted 12 years. When Jaeger-LeCoultre decided to quit, Venice Cartier came on board. We are extremely happy about this partnership because Cartier is one of the most prestigious labels in the world and we share, in a way, the same attitude. The taste for art and for the beautiful things in life. We appreciate the fact that one of the aims of Cartier is to support young artists and talents all over the world. So, I think that we could profit from this partnership a lot.

Can you tell us a bit about the Cartier Glory Award which is going to Wes Anderson this year? 

This is the 15th edition of the award, Glory to the Filmmaker. It’s a way to recognize the special contribution of a filmmaker to the development of film art. We have presented the award to really great filmmakers in the past. This year we decided to give the award to Wes Anderson, who is an iconic filmmaker. When you see a single frame from one of his films, you immediately recognize his style. The music, the composition of the frame, the use of the actors, a certain childish style, the use of very simple colors, and so on. Of course, It’s a very personal and original work that we can find in all of his works. I think that he’s one of the most talented and appreciated filmmakers.

What is the selection process for this award?

I propose to Cartier a couple of names every year, and they suggest what they prefer. Usually, we agree immediately on the choice of the winner of the prize.

Monica Bellucci in a sparkling Cartier creation in 2022. Photo:

Why do you think that jewelry and cinema go so well together?

The fashion world and the cinema world has been combined since the beginning. Since the first ten years of cinema, with the rising of the star system, fashion and jewelry were strictly connected. They have been through the entire history of cinema, and they still are connected. Sometimes the fashion companies use stars and talent to promote their products. At the same time cinema, films and filmmaker, use jewelry or any kind of product from the fashion world to improve the quality of their films. I think it’s one of the most strong relationship, the one between the film industry and the fashion world.

What has it been like to manage the festival during the SAG-AFTRA strike?

Well, I closed the selection on the 12th of July, two days before the strike. At the beginning, I was very worried because I thought that we would lose all the American movies. Luckily enough, we lost only one film. The opening one, Challengers by Luca Guadagnino, because the production companies, Amazon and MGM, decided to postpone the release date till the next spring to profit off promotions by Zendaya. All the other things have been confirmed.

We know that some talents will not be able to attend because of the strike. All the talents connected to the films from the studios or the platforms, of course, but these are only four films. Three films from Netflix and one film from Searchlight. All the other American movies are independent independent productions. Most of them got permission to bring the actors to support their films. Some of them will not come in solidarity with strikers, but others will be here.

Adam Driver, for example, will be here to support Ferrari. The cast of Sophia Coppola’s Priscilla will be here. Jessica Chastain will be here with Michel Franco’s Memory. Léa Seydoux, will come to promote Bertrand Bonello’s film. So, not all of them will not be on the red carpet of Venice. Yes, of course, we know there will be less stuff than usual. Next year, they will be back for sure.

Julianne Moore on the Venice Film Festival red carpet in 2022. Photo:

Do the studios ever have a hard time giving the actors time off to travel to Venice?

Sometimes it’s difficult. If they are working. If they are on a set it’s difficult to make a break in the shooting to allow the talent to come to Venice, but it’s quite rare. I would say that in 90% of the cases, they are coming to the festival to support the film. I mean, this was the main case in the past.

What makes this festival unique when compared with the other festivals that exist around the world?

Well, the fact that this is the only festival that is not named as a festival. The name of the festival is Mostra d’Arte, it means art exhibition for films. It means that first of all we support filmmakers and auteur films. Of course, the concept of auteur films has changed a lot in the past. When we talk about auteur films today we don’t necessarily mean the same thing that we meant 40 or 50 years ago. The position of the filmmaker or the auteur in the frame of the film industry has completely changed.

Some of the most interesting auteur films today are produced by platforms or the big studios. The latest film by Martin Scorcese is produced by Apple. David Fincher. Jane Campion. Recently, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro is produced by Netflix. I mean the studios today are the platform – Amazon, Apple, Netflix, and so on. So it’s a completely different situation from the past.

Anyway, talking about Venice, I think that Venice is not only the oldest festival in the world, but it’s the aristocracy of the festivals. It’s much more elegant, it’s much more relaxed. There are a lot of talents coming from all over the world, especially from the US. All the rituals of the festival, from the red carpet and the press conference to the photo call, are extremely well attended. We increased the number of viewers and audience coming to the festival but still, it’s very easy see the film. I mean, the magic environment of the Venice Lagoon, it’s something unique in the world. Coming to the Lido with the boat, arriving to the Hotel Excelsior, it’s completely unique. It’s magic in a way, no? And this is something that everybody appreciates.

Yasmine Sabri at Venice Film Festival. Photo:

You have been working in cinema and with the festival for so long. What is a really unique and interesting incident that you will never forget? 

One of my best memories is the first time I was appointed as director of Venice in 1999. I never went to Hollywood before, that was my first trip to the Mecca of cinema. My first appointment was with Warner Brothers and we were sitting on the table for lunch and the person in charge of international for Warner Brothers told me, we have a film for Venice and the film is the last film by Stanley Kubrick. I was so surprised that I couldn’t believe it because Stanley Kubrick never went to a festival before with a film. But they told me, we spoke to him, and he agreed to come to Venice that year. Then, of course, he died two months before the festival, but we opened the festival with Eyes Wide Shut.

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were on stage. Bernardo Bertolucci made a wonderful speech as a tribute to Stanley Kubrick. Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman spoke about the relationship with Stanley Kubrick and then, at the end, they were crying, both of them, on the stage. So, it was so emotional. I cannot forget that night and that was my first night in Venice, so I felt very, very lucky.

How did you fall in love with movies, personally? What made you choose this career?

When I was very, very young, less than five years old, I went to my uncle who was selling tickets to a small theater in the village where I was born. So, I started to go to the theater every single week of the year and I fell in love with movies. So I decided I wanted to become an actor when I was very young. Then I realized that film directors are more important than the actors and so, at 14, 15 years old I decided I wanted to become a filmmaker, a film director. Then I realized that you have to to have a lot of talent to become a filmmaker but I still wanted to work with cinema.

So, I studied cinema at the university. I started to work as a film critic for the daily newspaper in Torino and then the city of Turin decided to start a new festival and I started to work for the festival. After a few years, I became the director of the festival, and 16 years later they asked me to come to Venice and to direct the festival. I didn’t want to go at the beginning because I was very comfortable in Torino. The festival was very successful and I didn’t have any kind of pressure from anybody so it was a perfect  situation to work with films but then, of course, I couldn’t resist, so I accepted.

Emma Chamberlain in gold Cartier jewelry. Photo:

What’s your advice for someone young that wants to make a career in cinema?

First of all, you need to understand if you have some talent as an actor, as a filmmaker, or something else. This kind of job is full of different angles. You have to choose the one you prefer and have talent for to become successful, no? And then you have to persist, you have to insist. It is extremely difficult, it takes time. You have to be very determined. You don’t have to be discouraged from the first failures because there will be, for sure. It will be a closed door for you for many, many years but if you insist and if you have talent, you will succeed.

Do you have any knowledge of or have you been to any of the film festivals that we have in the Arab world?

I went a couple of times to Cairo. I went to Marrakech. I think it’s very important, film festivals play a major role in every country to build a bridge between the audience, the films, the filmmakers and the film industry. I think that all of them, from what I know, they’re very, very important. They are extremely well attended. The audience is always very passionate. They have the chance to see things that are usually not released commercially in those countries, and they can meet the filmmakers, the talent and so on. I think, festivals had a bigger role in the past to promote films and they keep on doing that. They will do that in the future as well.

Read Next: Martin Scorsese Will Mentor Local Filmmakers at the Marrakech International Film Festival


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