The Venice International Film Festival turns 90, ready to rekindle the spotlight for the 79th edition

29 August 2022

Venice, August 25th, 2022 – On August 6th, 1932, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Joan Crawford and Vittorio de Sica, guests of honors at the first edition of the Venice International Film Festival, gathered at the Excelsior Hotel in Lido. On the screen films, such as Grand Hotel, Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, will mark generations of directors and actors, becoming over time great film classics.

90 years and 18 thousand films have passed since the first edition of the Venice International Film Festival – that was the name given to it in the summer of 1932, before it took on the official name of the Venice International Film Festival two years later -, which this year turns with style, creativity and courage to its 79th edition. A festival made of ups and downs, which in its long life has gone through a world war, the tensions of the riots of 1968 and the economic crises of the 80s and 90s. The festival, however, has never lost its independent and compelling spirit, which has created new spaces, shaped a new idea of Italian cinema and launched many future Oscars.

A film event loved not only by the movie stars but also by the Venetians, who since the early fifties thanks to the construction of the new cinema arena, have been able to participate in the screenings of the films in the race. In 90 years, Venice and its Festival have ridden the transformations, the cinematographic trends and the technology, already in 1938, the three-dimensional cinema arrived here.

This year, the queen of film festivals, will turn the spotlight on August 31st, illuminating one of the most famous red carpet in the world and kicking off the eleven days of celebrations that for 90 years populate the Venetian island of Lido until September 10th, with the highly anticipated award ceremony of the films in the race. A unique anniversary to remember the first film festival in the world, born in a city that has always been a pioneer in art and innovation.

Here is a short story that traces the 90 years of the Biennale Cinema, from its origins until today.

The first International Film Festival dated back to 1932 as part of the 18th Venice Biennale. The festival, was called “1st International Film Festival”, was born from an idea of the president of the Biennale, Giuseppe Volpi, the sculptor Antonio Marani, secrecy general, and Luciano De Feo, secretary general of the Education Film Union (emanation of the League of Nations based in Rome), which agreed on the idea of holding the festival in the lagoon city and as the first director-selector.

The 1932 edition took place from 6th to 21st August 1932 and was the first international event of this type: it took place entirely on the terrace of the Hotel Excelsior in Lido and, although it was not a competitive event, in the billboard there were titles that made the history of cinema. Among these, it is worth mentioning “Probito” by the great American director Frank Capra, “Grand Hotel” by Edmund Goulding, “The Champion” of King Vidor, the first and inimitable “Frankenstein” by James Whale. The evenings were attended by the main characters of the films that brought to the Lido over 25 thousand spectators: there is talk of the greatest international stars of the time such as Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Fredrich March, Loretta Young, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, without forgetting the Italian idol Vittorio De Sica and the great Boris Karloff, who went down in history for his role as the monster in the first Frankenstein. The first film in the history of the festival, which was screened on the evening of 6th August 1932, was “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Rouben Mamoulian. The first Italian film, “Gli uomini, che mascalzoni….” by Camerini, was presented on the evening of August 11th, 1932.

In the absence of a jury and the awarding of official prizes, introduced only later, a referendum called by the organizing committee, chaired by Attilio Fontana from The Educational Film Union, held among the public attending the festival, The Soviet director Nicolai Ekk was chosen as the best director for the film “The Path to Life”, while Rene Clair’s film “To me Freedom'' was elected as the funniest. Best Actress was Helen Hayes, Best Actor was Fredrich March; the most moving film was Edgar Selwyn’s “The Sin of Madelon Claudet”.

The second edition took place two years later, in 1934, and was the first competitive review: the countries represented were 19 with more than 300 journalists. From 1935 the festival became annual, a clear sign of the international success of the event. That same year, the Mussolini Cup was established for the best foreign and Italian film, but there was no real jury. It was the presidency of the Biennale that decreed the winners of the awards. In addition to the Mussolini Cup, The Great Gold medals of the Fascist National Association of the show were distributed, as well as the awards for the best performances and young directors for their first work.

As the reputation and prestige of the festival grew, so did the number of works and participating countries. Starting from this edition, however, and until the post-war period, the festival did not participate in Soviet films, whilst the prestigious prize for actors took the name of Coppa Volpi, from the surname of Count Giuseppe Volpi, father of the festival.

From edition to edition, many were innovations of the Exhibition: in 1937 was inaugurated the new Palazzo del Cinema, the work of the architect Luigi Quagliata, built in record time according to the dictates of Modernism, spread at the time and never abandoned in the history of the festival, except between 1940 and 1948.

The 1940s represented one of the most difficult moments of the festival due to the ongoing wars: the 1940, 1941 and 1942 editions took place in Venice, but far from the Lido. There were few participating countries. The festival resumed at full capacity in 1946 following the conclusion of the war but the screenings were held this time at the San Marco cinema, due to the requisition of the Palazzo del Cinema by the Allies.

The 1946 edition for the first time took place in September, following the agreement with the newborn Cannes Film Festival, which in the spring of 1946 had organized its first festival. In 1947 the festival was held at the Doge’s Palace, in a splendid and unique setting, reaching a record of ninety thousand visitors. 1947 also saw the restoration of the International Jury to award the Venice International Grand Prix.

The growth of the exhibition and its increasing importance led to a demand for more space: between 2000 and 2001 the management focused on a strong strengthening of the infrastructure, alongside the historic buildings new large venues, renovated or created specifically for the festival, improving the links between the different areas and bringing the total space available to the festival to over 11,000 square meters