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Venice Film Festival: Launch pad for indie movies?

Actors Sandra Bullock and George Clooney at the 2013 Venice Film Festival
Stefania D'Alessandro | Getty Images
Actors Sandra Bullock and George Clooney at the 2013 Venice Film Festival

The world's oldest international film festival, which kicked off on Wednesday, is becoming an increasingly important launch pad for small-budget films, according to industry experts.

The festival, based in Italy's historic city of Venice, is a "route to fame for less well-known films" and excels at showcasing films with a sophisticated side, Ian Nathan, editor of movie publication Empire Magazine, said.

"Venice has become, over the last ten to fifteen years, increasingly important for films and the film industry," Nathan told CNBC. He said that part of the reason for Venice's increased popularity was the explosion in the size of the better-known Cannes film festival.

"Cannes is huge now - it's more like a carnival and most of the smaller film makers think that they won't get noticed if they go to Cannes," said Nathan.

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A. O. Scott, film critic for The New York Times, said the crowded movie marketplace had boosted the festival, called La Biennale di Venezia in Italian.

"So many films are competing for attention that they have a better chance of being noticed at Venice or another film festival, than if they had a small local premiere," Scott told CNBC on Wednesday

Glamorous location

Part of the reason for the Venice festival's high profile is its location, which attracts stars – and the accompanying media - from far and wide.

"Being in Venice does give you an aura of glamour, a sense of sophistication, which is unique to Venice," Nathan said, adding that the media attention at the festival also benefited low-budget movie makers. "Smaller-film makers have the opportunity to get their voice heard by the wider world."

The presence of big blockbusters at the festival, such as this year's "Gravity", starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, attracts the media's attention and means smaller-budget films can also profit from the coverage.

"The Venice Film Festival is really a chance for smaller films to get a 'publicity bump.' Even if you make a small movie, you will have your red carpet moment," said Scott. "It really gives smaller filmmakers a chance to show their movie in an atmosphere where it will be respected".

Timing is another reason the Venice Film Festival has become attractive to filmmakers. "The timing coincides with the start of the awards season," Nathan said. "If a film maker makes a big noise at Cannes, he can easily be forgotten over the summer before the awards."

Brokeback Mountain, for instance, which had a small budget of just $14 million, won Venice's coveted Leone d'Oro (Golden Lion) prize in 2005. It then went on to win three Oscars, four Golden Globes and four BAFTAs, and grossed over $178 million at the box office.

Venice was a festival that suited Brokeback's director Ang Lee, according to Nathan. "He is someone who really embodies the type of filmmaker that Venice would attract; he makes films that are arty and clever and non-mainstream."

Another of Lee's films, "Lust, Caution," also benefitted from winning the Leone d'Oro, going on to make over $67 million at the box office.

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"Obviously, the competition at Venice is very tight, as there are only 20 films competing," said Ben Roberts, the director of the Film Fund at the British Film Institute." Venice is very selective and has always kept a high bar as to the caliber of the films that it invites. It's very focused."

New faces?

New films by directors such as Stephen Frears, Terry Gilliam and Jonathan Glazer will be competing for the Leone d'Oro at this year's festival, along with a growing number of independent film-makers.

"Venice has always had a strong backbone of smaller Hollywood sophisticated films, but this year the selection is artier and more worldly, as Venice draws more independent film-makers away from Cannes," said Nathan. "Venice is more grown-up than some other festivals out there."

Roberts described this year's selection of films as "very Venice".

"The selection this year, especially the British films, such as Philomena and Under the Skin is very Venice; they are both very serious and well made films and present an array of cinematic pleasures," he said.

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In 2012, over 178,000 people attended the Biennale di Venezia, which generated 36 million euros ($47.9 million) in revenue.


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