Venice unveils line up, with Iranian persecuted filmmaker Jafar Panahi in Competition

While Venice does Iranian helmers right in their line up, with four titles divided between Orizzonti and the main Competition, the typical selection of Arab poverty porn and desolation in Syria and Iraq makes up the remaining films from the MENA region.
Venice unveils line up, with Iranian persecuted filmmaker Jafar Panahi in Competition

The Venice International Film Festival - La Biennale di Venezia cinema has announced its line up in their main Competition, Out of Competition, Orizzonti and Orizzonti Extra sections. At a press conference this morning, the two leading figures of La Biennale sat side by side and read out the extensive programme.

Roberto Cicutti, President of La Biennale said: "This year we are celebrating two important anniversaries - the 90th anniversary of the Mostra and the first 10 years of the #BiennaleCollegeCinema - with two major publications."

Alberto Barbera, the Artistic Director of the Festival, added: "If festivals are - as they say with an overused metaphor - windows open to the world, the window of Venezia 79 certainly cannot ignore what happens before our eyes." The presence of Jafar Panahi in Competition, while he awaits prosecution in his home country, certainly supports that idea.

Yesterday, the opening film of this year's Venice Film Festival was announced and it will be White Noise, written and directed by Noah Baumbach, starring Adam Driver, Greta Gerwig, Don Cheadle, Raffey Cassidy, Sam Nivola, May Nivola, Jodie Turner-Smith, André L. Benjamin and Lars Edinger.

Other much anticipated titles include Luca Guadagnino's cannibal romance set in the American midwest, titled Bones and All, as well as Darren Aronofsky's The Whale, filmed during the pandemic; the Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde by Andrew Dominik; Alejandro Iñárritu's Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths and Florian Zeller's follow up to his multi awarded The Father, titled, well it's only right, The Son.

A documentary on Italian director Franco Zeffirelli, and one on Jean-Luc Godard will be screened in the sidebar Venezia Classics. And one on Sergio Leone, the inspiration behind many of Quentin Tarantino's films as well. In Competition, Laura Poitras' touching documentary portrayal of Nan Goldin, the American photographer and activist, titled All the Beauty and the Bloodshed. At a time when America and its culture is being put down left and right, for the unpopular choices of a few awful politicians, it is good to remember that women like Goldin exist. In America -- today still. And Poitras herself is a rockstar, a filmmaker always at the cutting edge of our times.

There are also titles out of competition by both Gianfranco Rosi and Oliver Stone, as well as auteurs like Lav Diaz, Paul Schrader and Lars Von Trier.

But then, when it comes to Arab titles and films from the MENA, we know of at least two great films from the Region that could have been in Venice. And were not picked, because they tell honest, at times funny, everyday stories of a Middle East that lives, breathes and bleeds just like us. In their place in the Venice line up there are instead an ISIS story by Brazilian helmer Sergio Trefaut titled A Noiva (The Bride, pictured in the header); the story of 12-year old rubbish picker in Iraq, Hanging Gardens by Ahmed Yassin Al Daradji; and Soudade Kaadan's new film Nezouh, on a family in war torn Syria, the last two in Orizzonti Extra -- a non competition sidebar.

Incidentally, Nezouh is also one of our most anticipated titles at MIME and we included it in a list of five titles we thought should be in Cannes this year. About her film, Kaadan wrote "I tried to tell the story with dark humor and magic realism, with a non black and white narrative. I’m proud that it presents a different fresh image about Syria."

Two more titles, which somehow touch upon the MENA, in an effort to redeem the choices above, by French filmmakers with roots in the Maghreb include Our Ties, in Competition by Roschdy Zem, of Moroccan origins and starring Sami Bouajila and filmmaker Rachid Bouchareb in a drama which highlights a middle class family from North Africa; and For My Country by Algerian actor and director Rachid Hami, starring Karim Leklou, Lubna Azabal and Shaïne Boumedine, delving into the sudden tragedy of a French family of Algerian origin, competing in Orizzonti.

From Israel, Guy Davidi's Innocence, based on the diaries of young people who died during their years of military service screens in Orizzonti. Davidi's previous film 5 Broken Cameras, which he co-directed with the Palestinian Emad Burnat was nominated for a Best Documentary Academy Award in 2013.

There are also two short films in the Orizzonti section, one hailing from Egypt, My Girlfriend by Kawthar Younis, who in 2019 was named one of Screen's Arab Stars of Tomorrow, as well as the Turkish title Rutubet by Turan Haste.

The four Iranian titles going to Venice this year are World War III by Houman Seyedi in Orizzonti; Bi Roya (Without Her) by Arian Vazirdaftari in Orizzonti Extra; Beyond the Wall by Vahid Jalilvand along with the Panahi title No Bears, both in Competition.

For the complete line up, check out La Biennale's website.

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