VENICE -- This is the third year I've come to the Venice Film Festival to take in the fruits of the Biennale College. The BC is a higher-education training workshop for the development and production of micro-budget feature-length films. Three teams of filmmakers receive $150,000 Euro (about $178,000) to make a feature film. Those three films then show at the film festival, and a panel of critics gets together with the filmmakers to discuss.
I've been impressed with the resourcefulness and vision of the Biennale College filmmakers, never more so than this year. There's Strange Colors, a character study in which the dusty opal mines of the Australian outback are a character in their own right. There's Martyr, which combines abstraction and realism, drama and dance, to tell a story in which a young Lebanese man drowns, and his friends and family face questions of his life and afterlife. And there's Beautiful Things, a fugue-like documentary mixture of sound, image and words that interrogates our capacity for production and waste. (Among the characters is a contentedly lonesome oilman from the Midland-Odessa area).
This year there was also a virtual reality grouping, which I still hope to see. As for the main three, they're all bracingly personal and uncompromising, and they all have an aversion to any sort of commercial formula. They point forward, not backward. They remind us of the individual cinematic voice's power. I could see them finding a place in any number of Texas' many film festivals in the coming year.
These films also gave me the opportunity to join a panel discussion Monday afternoon with some top film critics and historians, including Peter Cowie, David Bordwell, Stephanie Zacharek, Glenn Kenny, Ty Burr and Justin Chang. None of us had to strain to praise the Biennale College. We all see plenty of films designed to merely be like other films. The originality of these selections felt like a cool Venice breeze. If film's future looks like this, that future looks bright.