Political passions run high at Venice film festival

VENICE (Reuters) - The award of top prize to hard-hitting Israeli war movie “Lebanon” was a fitting end to this year’s Venice film festival, where political passions ran high throughout.

Samuel Maoz, director of "Lebanon", makes his speech as he receives the Golden Lion for Best Film during the closing ceremony of the 66th Venice Film Festival September 12, 2009. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

The appearance of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and veteran U.S. director Oliver Stone together on the red carpet half way through the 11-day cinema showcase said it all.

Film makers from around the world tackled issues from capitalism to war, Iranian democracy to suicide in a further sign that independent cinema is determined to take on tough contemporary themes despite limited box office appeal.

And after a spate of films about U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq, the focus is likely to switch to the economic crisis, starting with Michael Moore’s documentary “Capitalism: A Love Story” which had its world premiere in Venice.

The award of the coveted Golden Lion to Lebanon will be a broadly popular choice after critics lauded the film and its harrowing depiction of the horror of battle, with the New York Times calling it “an astonishing piece of cinema.”

Iranian video artist Shirin Neshat picked up the best director Silver Lion for “Women Without Men”, about four women living through Iran’s foreign-backed coup in 1953 but which the director said had clear parallels to today’s protests.

“In a political verdict, the festival rewarded two pacifist films coming from two countries that hate each other,” said Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Lebanon director Samuel Maoz shot almost the entire drama from inside a tank to communicate the claustrophobia and fear he experienced as a young Israeli conscript during the 1982 war.

Despite its theme, Maoz told Reuters the film was not a condemnation of Israel’s policies, but a personal account of what he went through.

Explaining why the jury chose Lebanon from 25 competition films, its president and two-time Golden Lion winner Ang Lee told reporters:

“We all come from different countries, but we are happy that we are not inside that tank. It could be any tank and any war in the world, that’s what is so precious about the film.

“Although it’s a narrow point of view, that of Israeli soldiers, the ripple is incredible.”


Neshat was one of three Iranian directors at the world’s oldest film festival this year.

Twenty one-year-old director Hana Makhmalbaf brought the bloody street protests that followed June’s presidential vote directly to the big screen in “Green Days”, which examines the hopes and frustrations of the country’s youth.

Moore presented his attack on corporate greed with Capitalism: A Love Story, striking a chord with its mix of tragic personal tales, humour and over-the-top stunts.

Moore likens Wall Street to a casino, where billions of dollars of risky trades are made with little thought to the harm they can cause ordinary citizens if they go wrong. Capitalism, he concludes, is evil.

Stone was in Venice with “South of the Border”, another documentary that questions U.S. economic policy and lauds a generation of leftist leaders in South and Central America.

It centres around Chavez, portrayed by Stone as a champion of the poor and guarantor of democracy. The leader came to Venice to support the movie and looked every bit the Hollywood star as he shook hands and signed autographs on the red carpet.

Among the Italian films, Erik Gandini’s “Videocracy” criticised Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s media empire, and how it has shaped popular culture over the last three decades.

And also out of competition, Egyptian drama “Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story” portrayed the subjugation of women in Muslim societies.