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Venice Plays the Film Festival Game Right with Refreshingly Adventurous and Eclectic Line-Up

The Venice Film Festival, the world's oldest major film festival, has just unveiled the line-up for its 72nd edition this September and the slate is to die for, with a diverse array of international projects from both celebrated masters and future legends who are ready to take the Lido by storm.

In the wake of Toronto and Telluride's unseemly angling for Oscar attention, the uneven international balance of this year's Cannes slots, and the New York Film Festival's recent reveal that its Opening, Closing, and Centerpiece slots would all be given to mainstream biopics about famous men, it's infinitely refreshing to see a premier festival maintain its devotion to offering all the film world has to offer. Which isn't to say that the Festival won't be without its share of famous faces in high-profile enterprises. Johnny Depp, Jake Gyllenhaal, Dakota Johnson, Eddie Redmayne, Kristen Stewart, and Tilda Swinton are just six big names who will be popping up during the Festival, and Depp's forthcoming Whitey Bulger biopic Black Mass and Gyllenhaal's star-studded disaster flick Everest are surely no one's idea of underdog debuts in dire need of a festival's vital spotlight.

And yet, neither film can be found in the competition section (full list below), which seems almost strictly reserved for a commendable collection of global auteurs and cultural influencers, from Russian visionary Aleksandr Sokurov (Fracofonia, which is apparently not a study of James Franco idolatry) and Chinese documentarian Zhao Liang (Behemoth) to Polish film vet Jerzy Skolimowski (11 minut, i.e. 11 Minutes) and Australian indie pro Sue Brooks (Looking for Grace). Toss in the latest works from festival mainstays like Canada's Atom Egoyan (Remember) and Israel's Amos Gitai (Rabin, the Last Day), a starry thriller from Italy's sumptuous I Am Love stylist Luca Guadagnino (A Bigger Splash, starring Swinton, Johnson, Ralph Fiennes, and Matthias Schoenaerts), a buzzy (and industrially controversial) Netflix-funded African war drama and a futuristic love story from respective stateside indie wunderkinds Cary Fukunaga (Beasts of No Nation, with Idris Elba) and Drake Doremus (Equals, the Stewart film), the long-awaited return of that oddball virtuoso Charlie Kaufman (the crowd-funded animation Anomalisa), and a filmic essay from American underground icon Laurie Anderson about her border terrier, and you've got one of the most awesomely wide-ranging and relatively low-profile festival line-ups in recent years. When the most Oscar-baity flick on your plate is Tom Hooper's upcoming trans-focused Lili Elbe biopic The Danish Girl (above), you must be doing something right, and the Eddie Redmayne-starrer is, arguably, the only feasible Academy-ready entry of the twenty-wide bunch.

After all, this is the same festival that bypassed Alejandro Gonazález Iñárritu's enormous Oscar juggernaut Birdman last year to give the Golden Lion to Roy Andersson's absurdist whatsit A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence and ignored Birdman's Oscar-nominated star Michael Keaton to hand over its Best Actor prize to Adam Driver for a little indie item called Hungry Hearts, which also screened at this year's Tribeca Film Festival. Venice continues and will always continue to provide room for projects as prestige-laden as Birdman, Gravity, The Master, and Brokeback Mountain because, apparently, it's the only way for a festival to remain relevant. But Venice also continues to be the increasingly rare festival that reserves the bulk of its space for films and filmmakers that reside far, far away from Hollywood's radar and the wider world of Western cinema, but are nonetheless fully worthy of extensive industry coverage and larger audience enthusiasm. The documentary section alone features intriguing new works from such impressive, swoon-worthy names as medium giant Frederick Wiseman (In Jackson Heights, about the many immigrant communities within the famous Queens neighborhood), the ever-prolific Amy Berg (Janis, in which Janis Joplin gets the Amy treatment from the West of Memphis helmer), and environmental photographer Yann-Arthus Bertrand (Human, his follow-up to 2009's Home).

And just in case you were assuming that Venice was waving its finger full-mast to Hollywood, there are still plenty of prominent names and expensive entities scattered across the other programs, including The Audition, a fictional, sixteen-minute short from some upstart named Martin Scorsese that has been quietly placed out-of-competition in the Special Screenings strand. The film features Robert De Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt and received its funding from a Macau casino as a promotional film, which is, really, about as Hollywood as it gets.

The Venice Film Festival runs from September 2 - 12, 2015.

11 minut (11 Minutes) (Dir. Jerzy Skolimowski)
Abluka (Frenzy) (Dir. Emin Alper)
Anomalisa (Dirs. Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson)
L'attesa (Dir. Piero Messina)
Beasts of No Nation (Dir. Cary Fukunaga)
Behemoth (Dir. Zhao Liang)
A Bigger Splash (Dir. Luca Guadagnino)
El Clan (Dir. Pablo Trapero)
The Danish Girl (Dir. Tom Hooper)
The Endless River (Dir. Oliver Hermanus)
Equals (Dir. Drake Doremus)
Francofonia (Dir. Aleksandr Sokurov)
Heart of a Dog (Dir. Laurie Anderson)
L'hermine (Dir. Christian Vincent)
Looking for Grace (Dir. Sue Brooks)
Marguerite (Dir. Xavier Giannoli)
Per amor vostro (Dir. Giuseppe M. Gaudino)
Rabin, the Last Day (Dir. Amos Gitai)
Remember (Dir. Atom Egoyan)
Sangue del mio sangue (Dir. Marco Bellocchio)



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