Opioid Epidemic Documentary Wins Top Prize at Venice Festival

“All the Beauty and the Bloodshed,” Laura Poitras’s epic documentary about photographer Nan Goldin and her activism against the Sackler family and their art connections has been awarded the Golden Lion for best film at the 79th Venice International Film Festival. 

Poitras thanked the festival for recognizing that “documentary is cinema” at the ceremony Saturday evening in Venice. 

Runner up went to Alice Diop’s “Saint Omer,” the narrative debut from the documentarian about a young novelist observing the trial of a woman accused of infanticide. 

Cate Blanchett and Colin Farrell won the top acting prizes. Blanchett won for her performance as a renowned conductor in Todd Field’s “TÁR” and Farrell for playing a man who has broken up with by his longtime friend in Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin.” 

“Thank you so much, it’s such an enormous honor,” Blanchett said, having just flown back to Venice from the Telluride Film Festival where the film also played. 

Her performance as a successful woman in the world of international music whose reputation comes under threat has gotten nearly universal acclaim. 

“I’m shocked to get this and thrilled,” Farrell said in a live video message. McDonagh was on site to collect the prize before he got one of his own for the screenplay. 

Luca Guadagnino won the Silver Lion award for best director for the cannibal romance “Bones and All” starring Timothée Chalamet and Taylor Russell, who also was recognized for her performance for best young actress. 

“I have a speech prepared because I’m nervous,” Russell said. “I’m grateful beyond belief to be standing here. So many of my heroes are in this room.” 

The jury also gave a special jury prize to “No Bears,” by imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panâhi. The acclaimed director was in July ordered by Iran to serve six-year prison sentence from a decade ago that had never been enforced. The order came as the government seeks to silence criticism amid growing economic turmoil and political pressure. 

Julianne Moore led the jury that selected Saturday’s winner from a pool of 23 films that included many Oscar hopefuls. The Oscar-winner presided over a jury that included French director Audrey Diwan, whose film “Happening” won the Golden Lion last year, author Kazuo Ishiguro (“Never Let Me Go”), who has been judging from his hotel room after testing positive for COVID-19, and Iranian actor Leila Hatami (“A Separation”). Also on the main jury were Italian director Leonardo Di Costanzo (“The Inner Cage”) Argentinian filmmaker Mariano Cohn (“Official Competition”) and Rodrigo Sorogoyen (“The Candidate”). 

Premiering in competition at Venice has launched many successful Oscar campaigns in recent years, leading to nominations and even wins. Seven times in the last nine years the best director Oscar has gone to a film that world premiered at the festival, including Chloé Zhao, Alfonso Cuarón, Alejandro G. Iñarritu, twice, Guillermo del Toro and Damien Chazelle. It’s also debuted a handful future best picture winners like “Nomadland,” “The Shape of Water” and “Birdman.” 

The festival cemented several films, actors and directors, as strong awards contenders for the season to come. Brendan Fraser moved many to tears for his portrayal of Charlie, a reclusive English teacher who weighs 600 pounds and is attempting to mend things with his estranged, cruel daughter Ellie (Sadie Sink) in Darren Aronofsky’s “The Whale.” 

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