For international audiences the biggest success story from the Venice Film Festival last year probably wasn't The Master or The Iceman or Kim Ki-duk's Golden Lion winner, Pieta. It was Haifaa Al-Mansour's Wadjda, the endearing story of a feisty ten year-old girl, a character who was inspired by the director's own childhood. The film releases here on Sept 19.
Now for the festival's landmark 70th edition Al-Mansour, trumpeted as the first female director from Saudi Arabia, will return to the Lido to head the Luigi De Laurentiis jury for first-time filmmakers which she herself was this time last year. At 38, Al-Mansour, who completed a Master's degree in film studies at the University of Sydney, had already made numerous shorts and documentaries. Her groundbreaking 2005 documentary, Women Without Shadows, influenced a new wave of Saudi filmmakers and made the issue of opening movie theatres in the Kingdom front-page news.
Al-Mansour will preside over the Luigi De Laurentiis jury with six other jurors who will award one of the debut feature-length films in the various competitive sections the Lion of the Future, which offers a cash prize of US$100,000 to be divided equally between the director and the producer.
In recent years the prize was awarded to: Le grand voyage by Ismael Ferroukhi (2004), 13 - Tzameti by Gela Babluani (2005), Khadak by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth (2006), La zona by Rodrigo Plá (2007), Pranzo di ferragosto (Mid August Lunch) by Gianni Di Gregorio (2008), Engkwentro (Clash) by Pepe Diokno (2009), Cogunluk (Majority) by Seren Yuce (2010), Là-Bas (Là-bas: A Criminal Education) by Guido Lombardi (2011) and Küf (Mold) by Ali Aydin (2012).
Established in 1932, Venice, the oldest of all festivals (Cannes was 1939), will most likely bring back many of its regulars this year and none are more famous than George Clooney who will star in the opening film, Alfonso Cuarón's Gravity 3D. Paul Schrader will head the jury of the Orizzonti (Horizons) sidebar, while his new film, The Canyons, will receive an out-of competition berth. A collaboration between Schrader and Bret Easton Ellis, The Canyons depicts contemporary Los Angeles and young Hollywood and boasts “revelatory” performances by Lindsay Lohan and adult star James Deen. The film was financed through a crowd-funding campaign on Kickstarter.