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Venice Film Festival Once Again Proves to Be an Oscar Launch Pad

Variety logo Variety 1/24/2017 Nick Vivarelli
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ROME – The Venice Film Festival, after launching multiple-Oscar-winning movies three years in a row, now has a strong chance to make it four.

Newly announced Best Picture nominees “La La Land,” “Arrival,” and “Hacksaw Ridge” all launched from the Lido last year. With a total of 33 Oscar nods for six movies that world-premiered in Venice, the grande dame of European festivals has reaffirmed its magic touch in unveiling awards-season heavyweights (see list below).

The timing and prestige of the fest make for a potent formula. It boosted “Gravity” to a seven-statuette haul, including Best Director, in 2014; “Birdman” won Best Picture and three other Oscars in 2015; and “Spotlight” took two, including Best Picture, in 2016. All three films launched at Venice, with both “Gravity” and “Birdman” opening the festival. “La La Land” opened last year’s edition.

“You can say, ‘One year is a fluke.’ Then the second year, you say, ‘Something’s happening here.’ And then after the third, you realize that, with the right project, Venice is paying dividends,” veteran British publicist Jonathan Rutter said.

A key reason is timing. Venice is perfectly slotted a tad ahead of Toronto and Telluride, at the beginning of September, just as the industry starts casting its eye towards awards nominations, with no other major launch festivals after those three.

While the Lido draws a smaller American media presence than Toronto, it “attracts the sort of press you need to help launch awards-worthy movies,” said Rutter, whose Premier PR agency handled “Arrival,” “Hacksaw Ridge,” and “Jackie” in Venice last year.

“If you take the U.K., for example, The Guardian, Observer, Times, Telegraph, Evening Standard, Financial Times and i/Independent online all have critics there for at least the first part of the festival,” as do the trades, Rutter said. “Most of these critics turn reviews around very quickly, so within hours of the press screening you could find yourself with six to 10 high-profile, four- [or] 5-star reviews and the film successfully launched.”

Although other countries are well or adequately represented press-wise at the fest, the English-language press has the widest reach.

Also in Venice’s favor are its good screening conditions, Rutter noted. For most titles, an accredited journalist can turn up 10 minutes before a morning screening and still get a seat; the festival is not over-programmed, and the schedule is structured so that there are few clashes. The Lido’s compactness helps for logistics, access by journalists to talent, and generating word of mouth – all useful for boosting reviews and publicity as awards season looms.

Then there’s prestige. Lionsgate’s Patrick Wachsberger, explaining his decision to launch “La La Land” in Venice’s opening-day slot last year, said that Venice is more selective than Toronto, and a prominent spot on the Lido program “can give a film greater cachet.”

“Venice has really proved that it has gone back to being an ideal platform to launch films internationally and for the start of the Oscar race,” fest artistic director Alberto Barbera said after the nominations were announced.

“This year there were no movies [I wanted] that preferred another festival to Venice for launching their Oscar campaigns,” Barbera added. “It did not work that way in past years.”

* Oscar-nominated movies that world-premiered at the 2016 Venice Film Festival:

“La La Land”: 14

“Arrival”: 8

“Hacksaw Ridge”: 6

“Jackie”: 3

“Nocturnal Animals”: 1

“Tanna”: 1

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