The Venice Film Festival has been applauded for its handling of a physical event during the Covid-19 pandemic while also revealing areas that could be improved.

Taking part in the latest ScreenDaily Talks, Premier PR director of film Jonathan Rutter praised the safety measures employed by the festival, which runs September 2-12, and the positive atmosphere as industry gather together for the first time since the Berlinale in February.

Watch the full session above.

“The festival has done a great job, making it happen in these strange circumstances,” said the PR executive. “I hope that other festivals take a look at what Venice has done and realise they could probably do it too. But I do think there are a few things that could be improved.”

Rutter flagged the livestreaming of press conferences, which may deter journalists from attending in person; restricted access to press screenings, as strict social distancing measures reduce the ability to network; and fewer seats for smaller films in the sidebar sections, which may decrease their chance of international exposure.

“These are glitches that only become apparent when you’re in the middle of the festival and suddenly realise what isn’t quite working,” said Rutter. “Berlin and Cannes should be getting feedback from us about what does and doesn’t work. But it’s great to all be doing our jobs again and let’s hope it happens again soon.”

Savina Neirotti, who heads the Biennale College Cinema programme and is content curator for the Venice Production Bridge, said there was uncertainty ahead of this year’s festival but revealed how the virus crisis has encouraged a spirit of collaboration.

“Normally at a festival, there’s this hectic feeling and people are tense but this pandemic has given us more kindness,” said Neirotti. “We were worried in the beginning because we thought how would it work and how would theatres be. But there was a lot of work put into it and it’s been a great success.”

The festival is the first major international film event to take place since the coronavirus outbreak, which saw the Cannes Film Festival cancelled and several others postponed or moved entirely online.

“Incredible achievement”

Fionnuala Halligan, chief critic and reviews editor for Screen International, branded this year’s Venice an “incredible achievement”.

“We didn’t know what to expect [in Venice] and how they would manage social distancing but it’s been incredibly impressive,” said Halligan. “You’re socially distanced, obliged to wear a mask at screenings and everyone’s compliant… Everyone has been so friendly and happy to be back.”

She also highlighted how everyone is given a temperature check when entering the cinema, with only two people turned away to date, according to Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera.

Screen International editor Matt Mueller, who moderated the discussion, also praised the festival and in particular its online digital ticketing system, which eliminates the need for extensive queueing ahead of early-morning screenings.

“It’s a great system,” said Mueller. “If we had this is Cannes, you could eliminate that crazy, 8am screening queue. I would love to see that translated to other festivals.”

Rutter added that, while some digital innovations may be adopted in the long-term, he hoped they would not totally overtake the festival experience. I’d like to think things will revert back to how they used to be,” he said. “I suspect that won’t be the case because people will realise that you can do it effectively this way and save a lot of money because, as we know, one of the downsides to Venice is that it’s an expensive operation.

“Alberto Barbera has put a massive amount of effort into making this a live event and I think we all have to support it as a live event. So I hope there isn’t too much of a drift in the future towards doing things remotely when we don’t need to.”