The Venice Film Festival and The Public Sphere

Although I personally hold expectations of Shadow (2018), Alfonso Cuaron’s Rome (2018) has won the Gold Lion Award. Zhang Yimou has won the Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory in the Venice Film Festival this year to honour him as an outstanding filmmaker who made remarkable contribution to the film industry. The Jaeger-LeCoultre Glory has been set since 2008 and Zhang Yimou is the first Chinese recipient. Yorgos Lanthimos has won the Grand Jury Prize with his film The Favourite. Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers makes him the Best Director. So far, the complete award-winning list has released and the 75th Venice Film Festival has officially closed the curtain.

WeChat Image_20180912203117
Alfonso Cuaron has won the Gold Lion Award this year.

According to Wong (2016), while film festivals do not challenge the temporal power, they provide alternatives to mainstream commercial cinemas, whose influence worried many scholars. For example, the Venice Film Festival as the first global film festival and one of the most historical film festivals, its position and status is evident with the name of “the father of film festival”. Since its foundation in 1930s, innovation has been its eternal theme. Therefore, the Venice Film Festival has always be the subject of a talk because of its encouragement for filmmakers to have novelty and artistry. The pursuit to innovation throughout makes it one of the most famous film festivals, however, controversial films and topics can be also seen regularly. Just take this year’s festival as an example, questioned voice has heard since its opening. The opening file, First Man (2018), has been questioned by American audience mainly because the film has no scene of planting American flag on the surface of moon. Not only that, At Eternity’s Gate (2018) has also caused debates since it provides another totally new assumption about the Dutch artist, Vincent van Gogh’s cause of death.

The poster of First Man
The poster of At Eternity’s Gate

As an international film festival with long history, the Venice Film Festival plays a sophisticated hand with its influence. However, according to the wide variety of film festivals, from national festivals to regional festivals, from city-based festivals to thematic festivals, they “participate in the varied public and counterpublic spheres in the larger world, adding their own distinctive contributions to the discursive formation of the public spheres and to our conceptualization of them” (Wong 2016, p. 91). Let us go back to the Not One Less (1992) that I talked about in my last blog, the reactions to the film from the Cannes Film Festival and the Venice one had jumped to one of the two extremes. On the one side is “political interpretation” and the other side is the praise of “precious”. Disagreements exist between these two juries, not mention million of audiences’ opinions would be affected by them.

The funny thing is that even the award winning of Alfonso Cuaron has been questioned because of his Mexican descent and his close friendship with this year’s Venice Film Festival’s president, Guillermo del Toro, another Mexican filmmaker. As public events, film festivals inevitably make topics for the public sphere and audiences’ opinion has been shaped constantly. This is also why the study of making film festivals as public/counterpublic is valuable.



Chazelle, D(dir) 2018, First Man, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival.

Cuaron, A (dir) 2018, Rome, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival.

Schnabel, J (dir) 2018, At Eternity’s Gate, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival.

Wong, C 2016, ‘Publics and Counter Publics: rethinking film festivals as public spheres’, in B Kredell (ed.), Film Festivals: History, theory, method, practice, Routledge, New York, pp. 83-99.

Zhang, Y (dir) 1999, Not One Less, DVD, Calif, Culver City.

Zhang, Y (dir) 2018, Shadow, motion picture, the Venice Film Festival, Venice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s