By Ahmad Rafat
The Venice International Film Festival turns 90 this year. Originally launched in 1932, it is the oldest international film festival in the world.
The 79th edition of the festival, organized by La Biennale di Venezia and directed by Alberto Barbera, and is being held on Venice’s Lido Island through Sep. 10.
The opening ceremony on Aug. 31 featured French actress Catherine Deneuve receiving the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivering a video message — which included the names of 3,000 children and adolescents who have died since the Russian invasion of the country six months ago.
The opening and closing ceremonies’ presenter, Italian actress Alessandra Mastronardi, introduced the juries for the three principal competition categories.
Celebrated Iranian actress Leila Hatami is a member of the main competition jury, headed by the American actress Julianne Moore.
Iranian filmmakers also have a strong presence at this year’s Venice Festival.
Jafar Panahi’s “Khers Nist” (“No Bears”) and Vahid Jalilvand’s “Shab, Dakheli, Divar” (“Beyond the Wall”) are in the main competition. It’s the first time that two Iranian films are competing for the top trophy.
The Venice Festival will screen Jafar Panahi’s “No Bears” on Sept. 9. On the same day, directors and artists from various countries will gather on the red carpet, demonstrating support for Jafar Panahi, Mohammad Rasoulof, and Mostafa Alahmad, and condemning pressure on Iranian filmmakers.
Mr. Panahi’s “The Circle” received the Golden Lion at the 57th International Venice Film Festival in 2000, making him the only Iranian director ever to win the Venice Festival’s top prize.
Iranian authorities arrested Panahi on July 11 while he was visiting the Tehran prosecutor’s office to follow up on the cases of two fellow filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Alahmad, who were arrested on security-related charges earlier that month.
According to the Iranian authorities, Panahi is to serve a six-year prison sentence that he was handed originally in 2011.
It is the first time that a director whose work is showcased in the Venice Film Festival’s main competition is in prison.
Some claim that Panahi’s “No Bears” was included in this year’s Venice Film Festival only because he was arrested.
However, in a telephone conversation with Kayhan Life, the Venice Film Festival’s artistic director Alberto Barbera dismissed the claims.
“We received the film in April and immediately selected it for the main competition section,” Mr. Barbera insisted. “The presence of Panahi’s film, which I think is one of this director’s best works, has nothing to do with the current situation, even though we believe this brilliant veteran director and Mohammad Rasoulof should be released immediately.”
It is unlikely that “No Bears” will leave the Venice Festival empty-handed, given Panahi’s long relationship with the event, and Leila Hatami being in the main jury.
According to the Venice Festival’s catalog, the film is about “two parallel love stories. In both, the lovers are troubled by hidden, inevitable obstacles, the force of superstition and the mechanics of power.”
Panahi, who is banned from traveling abroad, remote-directed the “No Bears” segment filmed in Turkey, and was on location for other parts of the film made in Iran. As with his other later films, Panahi himself appears in “No Bears.”
This year’s event marks the third time that Vahid Jalilvand’s films have been showcased at the Venice Film Festival. They have been screened twice in the previous Venice Festival’s sidebar Orizzonti (Horizons) section.
Jalilvand’s “No Date, No Signature” won the Best Director’s Award in the Orizzonti section of the 74th International Venice Film Festival in 2017.
Jalilvand’s drama “Beyond the Wall” tells the story of Ali, a blind man whose attempted suicide is interrupted by the building manager. The manager tells Ali about Leila, an escaped woman hiding in the building. Ali makes it his mission to help her.
Barbera said “Beyond the Wall” is a metaphor for the social climate in Iran.
Iranian actor, Navid Mohammadzadeh, plays the lead role in the film. Mr. Mohammadzadeh received the Orizzonti Award for Best Actor for his role in Jalilvand’s “No Date, No Signature” in 2017.
Iranian authorities threatened to ban Mohammadzadeh from traveling abroad after he kissed his wife on the red-carpet event at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. They may also be unhappy about the red-carpet events at the Venice Film Festival.
Houman Seyyedi’s “Jang-e Jahani Sevom” (“World War III”) is included in this year’s Orizzonti section. The film tells the story of a film crew member who is unexpectedly chosen to play the role of Adolf Hitler.
Iranian director Arian Vazirdaftari’s first feature film, “Bi Roya” (“Without Her”), is included in Venice Festival’s Orizzonti Plus section. The film tells the story of Roya, who does not realize her dream of becoming a journalist. Two weeks before emigrating to Denmark, Roya’s husband insists she should meet a girl who suffers from amnesia. The meeting between the two becomes a story about identity.
The Cinema Organization of Iran has not issued release and distribution permits for “World War III” and “Without Her.”
Iranian documentary filmmaker Jafar Najafi’s “Tanha” (“Alone”) is included in the Venice Days (Le Giornate degli Autori), an independent film festival section held in parallel to and in association with the Venice Film Festival.
The film tells the story of Amir, a 14-year-old boy who, after his father dies, is forced to take care of his mother and 12-year-old twin sisters, Marzieh and Razieh. The story revolves around Amri’s struggle to look after her sisters while confronting traditional beliefs and behavior.
This year’s Venice Festival is holding two events to support people in the Iranian film industry, including a roundtable discussion by the festival managers supporting freedom of expression and condemning censorship. An Iranian director, whose name will not be released for security reasons until they have left Iran, will participate in this roundtable discussion.
The festival will end on Sept. 10 by announcing the name of the winners.