VENICE, Italy — Five words sum up this year’s Venice Film Festival: “Based on a true story.”
Inside, movie screens exploded with the forces roiling our world: war, terrorism and the vast migration bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the shores of Europe.
Outside, hundreds of demonstrators — many of them barefoot — marched Friday to the festival’s Palace of Cinema to show support for those fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa.
Throughout the 11-day festival, as beachgoers lounged on the sands of Venice’s lush Lido island, filmmakers and actors expressed dismay at the migrants’ plight and their mixed reception in Europe.
Displaced people were onscreen in “A Bigger Splash,” where refugees plucked from the Mediterranean were background players to the story of a rock star (Tilda Swinton) and her emotional entanglements.
Luca Guadagnino’s film drew boos at its press screenings from some who found the juxtaposition crass. But Swinton said the Italian director was simply showing reality.
“The idea that it’s possible to not be aware of this reality — which, by the way, has been a reality for decades — is becoming less and less tenable,” Swinton said.
“The more people’s tendency to want to edit this out and not be aware gets squeezed, squeezed, squeezed, that’s got to be a good thing,” she added. “Everybody has got to grow up about this and take proper, human responsibility.”
Reality was hard to avoid at the festival, which ends Saturday with the presentation of the Golden Lion prize. Many of the movies told stories that seemed to come straight from the news.
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There were African child soldiers drafted into a brutal civil war in Cary Fukunaga’s “Beasts of No Nation,” Afghan civilians caught between the Taliban and Danish troops in Tobias Lindholm’s “A War” and Turkish brothers trapped in escalating political violence in Emin Alper’s “Frenzy.”
Several films depicted real-life criminals and the social forces that made them: The assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, incited by extremist rabbis in Amos Gitai’s “Rabin: The Last Day”; Johnny Depp’s Boston gangster in league with corrupt cops in Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass”; kidnappers protected by a military dictatorship in Pablo Trapero’s Argentine thriller “El Clan.”
Festival director Alberto Barbera said the lineup reflected a feeling among filmmakers that “we seem to have lost control of our world.”
“They feel that they need to face reality, to reflect on reality,” he said.
Many didn’t like what they saw.
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“The political atmosphere in the Middle East is horrible,” said “Frenzy” director Alper, whose film premiered amid rising violence between Turkish troops and Kurdish militants.
“It’s getting more and more horrible these days. Of course Turkey is (affected) because it has a border with Syria,” he said. “Now you can see in every city there are refugees coming from Syria and they’re begging on the streets and some of them are trying to go to Europe and you see these horrible, terrible pictures.”
Those pictures — a drowned boy on a beach, a distraught father with his baby in his arms — have moved and troubled people around the world.
Canadian director Atom Egoyan attended the festival with “Remember,” a thriller about the Holocaust. He said images of migrants getting a hostile reception in a European nation like Hungary were chilling.
“Did you think that you would find in Europe that people would still be pushed into a train and taken to a place where there would be police waiting for them?” Egoyan said. “That just seems horrifying and shockingly insensitive. How can that happen again?”
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When Muhammed Muheisen won his first Pulitzer Prize, he wasn’t even 25 yet. He was born in Jerusalem in 1981 and, with a degree in journalism and political science, he joined the Associated Press at the age of 19. Since then, he has been an ever-rising star.
During the time he was based in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, he produced a seemingly endless stream of captivating daily-life photographs. His main focus has been children. Through their innocence and playfulness Muheisen captures the human spirit—so relatable, though set in a foreign and often rough environment.
“All the children of the world share something in common, wherever they are from,” he told “Time” in 2013, after he was named by the magazine the Best Wire Photographer of the year. With no electricity or even running water, he noticed how creative the children get with their games.
But Muheisen’s brilliance is not just about pointing a camera at a child. His mastery of light, composition, and perspective hint at a solid artistry that allows him to harness his opportunities.
The first Pulitzer Prize came in 2005 for his coverage of the war in Iraq. He added a second one in 2013 for covering the war in Syria.
Recently, he was appointed Chief AP Photographer for the Middle East, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
His assignments, however, took him far beyond the Middle East. Over the years Muheisen was dispatched to China, Yemen, France, and South Africa. Yet even in the most turbulent circumstances, he always looks for a sign of humanity, perhaps in the smile of a child.
“I was born in a conflicted country—there was always a space for joy and I never stopped looking for that through the years I spent covering stories in war zones,” he said in a video diary “Time” asked him to keep. “The smile always appears. Even in the middle of the conflict, life doesn’t stop. Life goes on.”
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The emergence of a Moscow-Jerusalem axis in the next decade, may not occur, but it cannot be ruled out and would dramatically remake the politics of the Middle East, most likely making that region a more violent part of the world where the U.S. has even less influence. This is not good for the U.S., and not an ideal scenario for Israel either. The only real winner would be Russia. There are many good reasons for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and millions in both countries that badly want to see that relationship become even stronger over time. Looking at what Israel would do if forced to find another patron, only makes that even more apparent.
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While still undiscovered by most Americans, Oman — considered one of the friendliest and most peaceful in the Middle East — is a favorite escape for jetsetters from London, Dubai…
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