Venice opens 'miraculous' film festival, but veterans lament

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Actress Tilda Swinton holds a carnival mask as she poses for photographers upon arrival at the opening ceremony of the 77th edition of the Venice Film Festival in Venice, Italy, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020. (Photo by Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

VENICE – The beachfront terrace at the Excelsior Hotel, usually hopping with movie industry VIPs and minor celebrities, is pleasantly quiet. The red carpet has a three-meter-high (ten-foot) wall blocking the public’s view. Veteran film-goers walk away dejected after being told they had to reserve seats online, well in advance.

Welcome to the Venice Film Festival in the time of coronavirus.

The world’s oldest film festival opened Wednesday under a slew of anti-COVID protocols, with the few A-list celebrities making the trip wearing face masks and the general public largely absent.

Paparazzi who in past years rented boats to chase stars as they crossed the lagoon to the Lido filmed the opening arrivals from special, socially-distanced spots along the red carpet. Masked guards took temperatures at nearly every turn, and no jostling, crowding or cramming was allowed.

It’s all part of the measures imposed by Venice organizers to try to safely host the first major in-person festival of the COVID-19 era when others canceled or went online. That the festival is happening at all is significant, given Italy was the first country in the West to be hit hard by the virus.

But Italy also largely brought infections under control with a rigid lockdown and continued vigilance — measures that festival organizers have embraced and enhanced.

“We feel the responsibility (of) being the first one. We know the festival of Venice will be a sort of test for everybody,” said festival director Alberto Barbera. “We worked a lot on strict plans of safety measures to ensure that everybody who attended the festival would be safe until the end. And if it works like we hope, everybody can learn from our experience.”

Usually, the public is warmly welcomed at Venice both indoors and out: They flock to screenings, and wait in the sun for hours to secure a spot along the red carpet, standing ten-deep to catch a glimpse of celebrities making their entrances.