Venice was once the gateway to the East, a meeting point between the cultures of the West and the Far East. Today that tradition is upheld by the Venice Film Festival which, more thsn any other European Film Festival looks to and awards the cinema of the East.
Marco Polo reached out to China in the 13th century and is credited with bridging the world's two most distant cultures. With two the silk road converging on the Venetian Empire, all trade travelled through the 'Serenissima', resulting in a melting pot that was more ethnically and linguistically diverse than any other city in the world. Today the city's greatness has faded leaving the hauntingly beautiful echoes of a rich and opulent history that shimmers like the sunlight on the city's canals. But the yearning for the Oriental remains and Eastern cinema has found a friend in Venice, a platform where it can bring its cinematic artworks to the wider Western audience.
Legendary Indian director Satyajit Ray won the Golden Lion in 1957
It was as far back as 1951 that the Venice Film Festival awarded the coveted Golden Lion to Kurosowa for 'Roshomon' a bold move that brought the Japanese genius to a global audience and ultimately won him the funding to continue to realising hi vision. In 1957 the accolade went to India for 'The Unvanquished' (Aparajito), directed by Satyajit Ray and back to Japan the following year for Hiroshi Inagaki for 'Rickshaw Man' (Muhomatsu no issho). A steady stream of Italian winners, punctuated by many French, who always do well at Venice, led up to 1989 when the Venice's current love affair with Sino cinema began.
Detail from the film poster for Zhang Yimou's 'The Story of Qui Ju'
Taiwanese film 'A City of Sadness' (Bei quing cheng shi) took the Golden Lion. Chinese director Zhang Yimou famously won the award twice for 'The Story of Qiu Ju' (Qiu Ju da guan si) 1992 and 'Not One Less' (Yi ge dou bu neng shao) in 1999. 'Still Life' (Sanxia haoren) by jia Zhangke won also in 2006. Last year's Silver Lion director winner was Shangjun Cai for 'People Mountain, People Sea' (Ren shan ren hai), while the Coppa Volpi for actress went to Deanie Yip for her part in Hong Kong director Ann Hui's 'A Simple Life.'
'People Mountain, People Sea'
In fact, the Venetian love affair with the Chinese has helped transform Chinese cinema from confined mono-cultural audience based industry into a global force over-taking Japan as the world's second biggest cinema market in terms of Box Office.
The new director of the Venice FIlm Festival Alberto Barbera told Chinese media yesterday that he truly believes in the creative power of Chinese film makers in 'telling the stories of a great nation' even though for once no Chinese films made the final list of 18 for competition. Heading the Chinese delegation this year is 'Fly with the Crane' which premiered yesterday.
'Fly with the Crane'
Shot on a shoe-string budget, it was adapted from a novel by Su Tong, a famous Chinese writer who is well known in Venice. His best-known work is the book 'Wives and Concubines' which was adapted for the screen as 'Raise the Red Lantern', directed by Zhang Yimou, which won the Silver Lion at the festival in 1991.