A richly decorated building with a domed ceiling and several little towers, in Venice, Italy

The Venice Film Festival in the Luce Archive

The origins of the world’s oldest film festival

Massimo Canario (opens in new window) (Istituto Luce)

Along with the Berlinale and the Cannes Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival is one of the most important film competitions in Europe, and certainly the oldest.

The Venice film Festival started during a time when the Italian government wanted to deeply influence the film industry, using cinematography as an important tool for indoctrination and propaganda for the fascist regime.

Conceived and strongly desired by Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, the Venice Film Festival saw its debut in 1932. The second edition was instead in 1934. Both editions were directed by Luciano De Feo, former director general of the Istituto Luce from 1924 to 1928.

In 1935, at the third edition of the lagoon festival, the Mussolini Cup, the equivalent of the current Leone d'Oro, was awarded to Casta Diva as the best Italian film and to Anna Karenina as the best foreign film.

Two years later, the blockbuster ‘Scipione l'Africano’ was awarded, a highly anticipated movie whose production was documented in many newsreels. The 1937 edition also saw the victory of a non-German movie, ‘Un carnet de bal’, as best foreign film. After 1938, the year in which Leni Riefenstahl got an award for Olympia, only movies created by the Allied nations will receive the Mussolini Cup.

In 1942, in the middle of the war, the last edition of the Film Festival in the fascist era was held: the winners were ‘Bengasi’ by Augusto Genina and ‘Il grande re’ by Veit Harlan. Among the guests of honour was the Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

The postwar period and the rebirth of Italian cinema

After the war there was a deep desire to take part in public social life once again. In 1946, Venice Film Festival reopened its doors. In 1947, the State Secretary, Giulio Andreotti, opened the Festival by announcing the return of the Cinecittà cinema to its original purpose as a movie theater. After the war it had become a refugee camp.

Since then, newsreels have been following the Venetian Film Festival very closely. To give just one example, The newsreel La Settimana Incom, released from 1946 to 1965, dedicated 67 news stories to the Film Festival, often including several issues solely devoted to the Festival.

In 1948, the Shah of Persia Reza Pahlavi arrived at the Festival, where Roberto Rossellini presented the film "Amore", to which Jean Cocteau, also a guest of the event, contributed.

In 1949 the first ‘Leone d’Oro’ of the lagoon festival was awarded. Henri-Georges Clouzot won it with the movie ‘Manon’.

The Festival has become more and more of a worldwide event. Over the years, Italian and international actors and directors who have made the history of cinema showed up: in 1950 Vittorio De Sica and Anna Maria Pietrangeli showed up, while the 1951 edition saw the presence of ‘unexpected guests’, such as Winston Churchill.

In 1955 the guest of honour was definitely Olivia de Havilland. But together with her, also Linda Christian, Sophia Loren, Alberto Sordi, the writer Edmund Purdom and the US ambassador to Italy Clare Luce Boothe graced the Festival with their presence.

In 1958, the Leone d’Oro was awarded to the film ‘The Rickshaw Man’ by Japanese director Hiroshi Inagaki, while Sophia Loren won the Volpi Cup as best female performer.

The Sixties opened with a strong controversy: the film ‘The Rhine crossing’ by the French director André Cayatte won over the favourite Luchino Visconti, who presented his masterpiece, ‘Rocco e i suoi fratelli’.

The worldwide year of protests in 1968 was also felt in Venice, with a request from some filmmakers to self-manage the festival in the name of culture.

TV replaces the newsreel

The last newsreel, present in the Luce archive that deals with the Festival is a Panorama Cinematografico from 1971, where extraordinary guests were presented: from John Ford to Vittorio De Sica, from Luchino Visconti to Gina Lollobrigida. Looking back at it now, the tone of the newsreel didn't match the time period any longer, and the jokes come over as stale.

In its place, television with its live broadcasts and its continuous updates ended up depriving the audience of newsreels, and this is true both in general and for social events in particular. From the 1970s onwards, television brought the stars of the Venice film show into the homes of Italians.

This blog is part of the editorials of Europeana Subtitled, a project which enabled audiovisual media heritage to be enjoyed and increased its use through closed captioning and subtitling.