The Golden Lion (Il Leone d'oro) is awarded to the best film at the Venice International Film Festival

The Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica, internationally better known as the Venice Film Festival, is by far the oldest film festival still taking place today. There are screenings in cinemas all over the city, but the centre of the action is the Lido area. Held every September, the motion picture festival is part of the Venice Biennale, a major biennial exhibition and festival of contemporary art.

The Mostra is made up of four sections: Venezia; Out of Competition; Orizzonti; Corto Cortissimo. They run alongside International Critic's Week; Venice Days and Film Marketplace. While the Venezia features 20 feature films in competition, the Out of Competition section showcases some of the biggest films of the year. Orizzonti aims to provide a platform for new trends in cinema; the Corto Cortissimo is a competition for short films.

The festival was established in 1932, and even in the prevailing cinematic climate of fascist propaganda films and imitations of Hollywood comedies ("white telephone" comedies, named after that undying symbol of elegance and opulence), it upheld the values of cinema d'auteur, transcending national boundaries.

After the Second World War, the event reflected the new climate of freedom of expression. Cinema makers of the Neo-realist school such as Rossellini and De Sica discovered more direct takes on reality which gave the lie to the glossy artificiality of much Hollywood cinema, opening the way for visionaries like Fellini whilst influencing American film of the 1960s.

In 1952, the characteristic "Leone d'Oro" (Golden Lion) prize was introduced. Recently, a new award has been added, the San Marco Award for the best film in the "controcorrente" section. To this day the Golden Lion remains, along with the Cannes Palme d'Or, one of the few trophies in the film world that comes anywhere near Hollywood's little golden man, the Oscar. Although the festival has traditionally sponsored non-Hollywood cinema, there has recently been a rapprochement, making this one of the most glamorous end-of-summer venues in the world.

In recent years there has been criticism that the Venice Film Festival has become a launchpad for US films, interspersed with a smattering of secondary Italian movies for political reasons. However, the Italian film producer, Marco Mueller, who runs the festival, defends the strong presence of Hollywood fare in Venice as an attempt to honour America's unique place in film history:

"Modern cinema was defined by a number of directors working within the Hollywood studio structure, so if modern cinema was born out of Hollywood, then why should we leave it outside the door?" he asks.

Biennale president Davide Croff adds: "The Venice festival has strong roots in its cultural history, and we cannot move away from that mission - but at the same time, there is a certain amount of glamour that is necessary to a festival, so we very much share Marco's vision. The Hollywood presence is welcome and required to be part of what the film industry can present to the world."

Finding words to express adequately the beauty and uniqueness of Venice has occupied writers for centuries. It is the city’s other-worldly, fairy-tale quality that attracts, keeping visitors flooding its narrow 'calli' and 'palazzo'-packed 'campi'

History and Highlights of the Festival

The first Esposizione internazionale d'arte cinematografica (International exhibition of cinematographic art) was held between 6 and 21 August on the terraces of the Hotel Excelsior on the Venice Lido and attracted more than 25,000 people. The first film to be shown was Rouben Mamoulian's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, while other screenings included films like It Happened One Night, by Frank Capra, Frankenstein by James Whale, and Zemlja by Aleksandr Dovzenko. No prizes were planned but a poll was held.

Golden Lion not awarded. Silver Lion to Fellini (I vitelloni), Mizoguchi, Carné, Huston.

For the first time films were admitted to the competition following an artistic selection and no longer based upon the designation of the participating countries.

Student protests hindered the opening of the Biennale. A period of institutional changes opened, ending up with a new Statute in 1973.

Clint Eastwood is presented with the Golden Lion career award by Sharon Stone at the 57th Venice Film Festival1969
Following the protests, no awards were presented. These resumed in 1980.

The festival featured a retrospective dedicated to the cinema of the Balkans, La meticcia di fuoco, held between 30th March and 16th April. Between August and September, as usual, the Mostra del Cinema was held, now at its 57th edition. The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement went to Clint Eastwood.

On December 23rd, the Italian Government approved the reform of the Biennale, which transformed the publicly run body into a Foundation open to contributions from the private sector.

Following terrorist attacks two months earlier in London, the Festival was slimmed down for security concerns. Italian movie producer Marco Mueller, in charge of the festival, said the number of films screened in the main cinema had been reduced to allow time for security personnel to check the space between screenings.

For the first time, the official international competition included entries made in digital format, as well as on traditional 35mm film.

Nineteen movies competed for the Golden Lion, including Terry Gilliam's The Brothers Grimm, starring Matt Damon; Proof, directed by John Madden and starring Gwyneth Paltrow; and Mary by Abel Ferrara.

The glamorous 'Il Palazzo del Casinò' located on the lido. Films are also screened at the 'Palazzo del Cinema' nearby

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