• Festivals

Making History at the Venice Film Festival

Survival of the fittest is the perfect way to describe my inaugural trip to La Biennale di Venezia, better known as the Venice Film Festival, on the Lido di Venezia, Italy. I spent nearly two full weeks in Venice. From ferries to theaters to hotels to restaurants, I ran around like a female version of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ in very cool Skechers.


While sprinting, I learned a few things real fast: the specific ferry (ACTV which is Venice Public Transportation Ferry Company) which travels to the Lido daily is long (I stayed at a hotel in Venice near St. Mark’s Square); the festival venues are spread out like a college campus with some theaters taking up to 10 minutes to reach, and the number of accredited Black journalists attending this festival can be counted on one hand, or if I can be honest, four fingers!

Those three things made my first time attending the Venice Film Festival challenging, but ultimately exciting. In the heat (80 degrees Fahrenheit plus humidity on a good day) and with the onslaught of mosquitoes, (I got over 20 mosquito bites in less than a week), I still screened over 15 films and participated in several press conferences. Being a veteran journalist, I notice everything when I’m in a new place. So I noticed that 99.9% of the time, I was the only Black person sitting in the theater for each screening I attended. It really made me think about and compare my experiences in Venice to my time at the Cannes Film Festival in France earlier this year. Cannes has international film festival vibes, whereas Venice was a more European film festival. Although there was certainly a lack of diversity when it came to seeing Black and Brown faces, festival workers, European journalists, and local police were extremely hospitable.

But back to the films, and there were lots of them. I haven’t seen this many films in person since before the pandemic. And I’ll admit, watching numerous films for hours, day in and day out, took a small toll on me, but 90% of the films I screened were excellent, meaning I would highly recommend them to any audience. Basically, I saw two types of movies: the first being American films with famous faces – Tár starring Cate BlanchettDead for a Dollar starring Willem Dafoe, Christoph Waltz, and Rachel BrosnahanDon’t Worry Darling with Harry Styles and Florence Pugh fall into the first category. The second category is international movies with exceptional performances by lesser-known actors from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East – Banu from Azerbaijan, Athena from France, Argentina, 1985  from Argentina, Les Enfants des Autres from France, and Eismayer from Austria fall into this category.

The latter five films blew me away. I rooted for the estranged underdog fighting to keep her son in Banu. As I watched Argentina, 1985, based on a true story about military leaders prosecuted for human rights atrocities, I couldn’t help but think of similar social injustices that happened in America in the 50s and 60s. And Les Enfants des Autres eloquently showed the story of a woman falling in love with a man and then having her heart broken before being abandoned. It’s a universal story of love and loss. It was great to get lost in different worlds for days on end.

Some of my most memorable moments were when I had direct interactions with award-winning actors at events and press conferences. At one event at the Hotel Excelsior (the premier, 5-star flagship hotel where many of the festival events take place), I had the pleasure of interacting with Golden Globe Award-winning actress Patricia Clarkson. She was in Venice to promote her latest film, Monica, which tells the story of a midwestern, transgender woman who returns home to take care of her ailing mother. Clarkson plays the mother and Trace Lysette plays her daughter. Lysette is the first trans actress with a leading role in a “competition” film at the festival. Clarkson expressed her delight to see Hollywood Foreign Press Association members at the festival. She also introduced me to Lysette and discussed Lysette’s incredible performance in the movie. In my brief conversation with Clarkson, we discussed Monica and also talked about older women in Hollywood. We talked about the beauty in a woman who embraces aging naturally. As a woman over 40 myself, I love seeing down-to-earth, super-talented actresses embrace their age while landing critically acclaimed films like Monica.

I also had the opportunity to interact with the actors in Dead for a Dollar. Christoph Waltz, Rachel Brosnahan, Benjamin Bratt, and Willem Dafoe star in the Western. During the press conference, since all of them talked about how great it was to work for director Walter Hill, I asked them to discuss the most challenging thing about working with a great director like him. Waltz immediately joked that he didn’t say any wonderful things about Hill previously. But then he got serious and said that he was “100% convinced that discipline is the starting point” for everything when taking a role. He went on to say you have to look at challenges as opportunities to instill discipline in oneself as opposed to viewing them as unwanted. He said it’s necessary in order to be successful in life. It was great to hear this Golden Globe-winning actor give such an inspirational answer, particularly since the press conference ended soon after.

As I look back on my experience, I’m proud of my milestones. I’ve been an HFPA member for less than a year during the organization’s most tumultuous time. A time during which it was lambasted for having no Black members until a year ago. I’m the first Black female HFPA member to attend the Venice Film Festival and one of only a few Black female journalists to attend overall. Being seen and heard within the HFPA and later at this Venice Film Festival after nearly two decades in this industry feels immense.