The Venice Film Festival and its role in bringing to the fore arthouse movies from all over the world

The Venice International Film Festival 2017 (30 August to 9 September) marked 74 years since its inception in 1932.

Acountry rich in history and culture and with a passion for the arts, Italy issteeped in a cinematic tradition and widely celebrated for its locallyconcerned yet globally influential neorealist movies of the 1940s and its iconicmovies produced during the height of the early Cinecittàƒ decades, and wherefascist propaganda films and sweeping historical narratives attracted audiencesfrom near and afar  - the Cinecittàƒ filmstudios and gigantic movie apparatus, generally known as "“The Hollywood on theTiber", currently covers a 100 acre area andincludes 22 stages, 2permanenttents,300 dressing rooms and offices, 21 makeup areas and an outdoor tank of112,000 square feet.

Thestudios were first established by Benito Mussolini in Rome in 1937, and in its beginnings they took the Italian film industry to new heights through filmmakers such as Vittoriode Sica, Bernardo Bertolucci, Roberto Rossellini, Luchino Visconti, and FedericoFellini. These cineastes wrote themselves into cinema history with films likede Sica's Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves, 1948), Visconti's La mortea Venezia (Death in Venice, 1971),and Fellini's La dolce vita (1960), Roma (1972), Amarcord(1973), and La cittàƒ delle donne (City of Women, 1980). The filmmakers are also famous for lending both extraordinary acting talents and stunning faces to the screen, with, e.g.,Sofia Loren and, now, Monica Bellucci seducing audiences both nationally andabroad. Both women could be considered the epitome of Italian beauty.

AsItaly is now part of an ever more globalised world, the country has becomecinematically influenced by trends beyond national borders. This is mostdefinitely the case in the globally impactful and immensely popular VeniceInternational Film Festival (part of the artistically rich and varied VeniceBiennale) which alongside the equally influential Cannes Film Festival and theBerlin International Film Festival presents audiences with a whole gamut offilm genres and narrative styles and welcomes the works of filmmakers from allover the world. As Venice plays host to this grand event the Italians themselvesprefer to call it not so much a festival as a cinematic display or exhibition(in Italian the festival is called "“Mostra Internazionale d'ArteCinematografica della Biennale di Venezia").

WithItaly's partial move away from its epic narratives of the past that shed lighton eras of importance in Italian history, the Venice International FilmFestival has become an important platform for Italian and internationalfilmmakers alike. This year's festival particularly highlighted the names of non-Italianacting veterans Judi Dench (most recently praised for her role in StephenFrears' royalistic drama Victoria andAbdul), Anette Beaning (also Presidentof the festival jury), Helen Mirren, Donald Sutherland, and Michael Caine. Itis fitting that Caine - producer of MyGeneration which also screened at the festival - was paid attention thisyear given his still relatively recent role in Youth (2015) which, although set in the Swiss Alps, is directed byItalian Paolo Sorrentino (two years earlier Sorrentino became widely celebratedfor his whirlwind of a movie, the hugely successful La Grande Bellezza). American superstars Jane Fonda and RobertRedford were being paid particular tribute at this year's festival. The two werehonoured for their long careers in and contribution to cinema and were conferredlife-time achievement awards. Both Redford andFonda starred in Ritesh Batra's romance "“Our Souls at Night", screened at thefestival, and they dazzled on the red carpet alongside a number of othercelebrities.

Filmmakers especially highlighted this year were Guillermo del Toro (TheShape of Water), actor turned filmmaker George Clooney (Suburbicon), and Darren Aronofsky - thelatter's psychological horror movie Mother!drawing much critical acclaim. These cineastesand others competed for the much coveted top prize the Golden Lionwhere the winner was del Toro and his "“1960s-set melodrama with an amphibioustwist", starring Sally Hawkins in the lead role. Awards were, according totradition, presented within the following remaining categories:"“Silver Lion - Grand Jury Prize (awarded Samuel Maoz for Foxtrot), Silver Lion for BestDirector (Xavier Legrand for Jusqu'àƒ laGarde), Coppa Volpi for Best Actor (Kamel El Basha in The Insult), Coppa Volpi for Best Actress (Charlotte Rampling in AndreaPallaoro's drama Hannah), Award forBest Screenplay (Martin McDonagh for ThreeBillboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), the Special Jury Prize (which,noteworthy from an Australian perspective, was awarded Warwick Thornton for Sweet Country), and 'MarcelloMastroianni' Award for Best New Young Actor or Actress"  (awarded CharliePlummer for his role in Lean on Pete).The additional virtual realitycompetition this year, said to have featured 22 films and installations, certainlyreflected the technological times we live in.

On a final note, and of interest to ourMelbourne readership, was the focus on Ai Weiwei at this year's festival. His documentaryfilm HumanFlow has taken him to 23 different countries and is concernedwith the refugee crisis across the globe. The bold and controversial Chineseartist was recently celebrated at a parallel exhibition (co-representing AndyWarhol) at the Melbourne National Gallery of Victoria, running from 11December, 2016, to 24 April, 2017. All in all, the hugely successful VeniceInternational Film Festival attracts film enthusiasts from across the globe andsuccessfully moves with the changing times, combining cinematic strengths andtrends from countries all over the world. The festival is a cultural meltingpot and demonstrates how it is possible for a country with an open mind andwith great artistic traditions to become a symbol of cross-national tolerance,interest and respect at a time when these qualities are sorely needed.