Since 2007, the Venice Queer Lion Award has reflected and elevated the best in LGBTQ cinema. Fifteen years later, founder Daniel N. Casagrande said this year’s Venice Film Festival would be “the weirdest edition ever”.
Of the festival’s 30 LGBTQ-themed titles, 19 are competing for the Queer Lion, including a record six films from the main competition. They include Todd Field’s bandleader drama “Tár,” starring Cate Blanchett; Darren Aronofsky’s estranged gay father study “The Whale”, starring Brendan Fraser; Laura Poitras’ documentary “All Beauty and Bloodshed,” chronicling the life and anti-opioid crusade of bisexual artist Nan Goldin; Andrea Pallaoro’s trans women’s family drama “Monica”; “L’immensità” by Emanuele Crialese, with Penélope Cruz as the mother of a transgender child; and Gianni Amelio’s “Il signore delle formiche”, the true story of an Italian artist imprisoned under an infamous anti-gay law.
With an average of 8-10 nominees each year, why is doubles now in competition? “In previous editions, I asked if there weren’t more films of LGBTQ interest submitted for the festival,” Casagrande explained. Many were, but the problem was their “inferior quality” compared to other selections in Venice. He thinks this year’s better and bigger crop is “definitely a sign that LGBTQ themes, stories and characters are seen less as a problematic stigma, and more as an integral part of society. I’m inclined to read these numbers as part of an ongoing trend.
In 2003, film critic/journalist Casagrande asked then-Venice director Moritz de Hadeln if he would like to create an honor similar to the queer-themed Teddy Award, which was created when he was director. from the Berlinale in 1987. “The answer was a warm ‘yes’, so together with my current right-hand man Marco Busato and Franco Grillini I started working on the project,” Casagrande said. It hit a speed bump when De Hadeln was replaced by Marco Müller, who ‘unconditionally approved’ the award but took a few years to launch.
Casagrande and Busato choose the nominees by asking the Venice selection committees which films have LGBTQ themes at the heart of the plot, a sometimes bumpy process. “To be honest, we’re still trying to figure out if the two of Cate Blanchett [“Tár” love interests] are women, or only one of them,” Busato said with a laugh before the festival. This year’s jurors are linked to the festival, but past years have included journalists, critics, directors such as filmmaker Tinto Brass (“Caligula”) and the first all-female jury in 2021.
The founders recalled a few comedic moments over the years. “I like to remember a very relaxed Brian De Palma who, during the press conference of [his 2012 lesbian-themed thriller] “Passion,” said he was sure to win the Queer Lion,” Casagrande said amusedly.
The award has had its share of controversy, including early attacks by Italian newspaper Libero and Iranian website Baztab. But as far as Casagrande knows, only one film has been taken out of competition for the prize. It was in 2007 when Italian PR reps for “Sukiyaki Western Django” asked them to remove him from controversy, saying “he was ‘not of queer interest’. And we were happy to oblige,” Casagrande said.
The Queer Lion has honored feature films with big-name talent (“A Single Man” by Tom Ford, “The Danish Girl” by Tom Hooper) and filmmakers like Ang Lee, winner of the 2009 Career Achievement Award. the honor — the second ever given — will go to “Casa Susanna” writer/director Sebastien Lifshitz at the September 9 awards ceremony. But Casagrande seems most proud of his ability to launch small independents at more festivals and awards, citing Li Cheng’s “José” and Kuba Czekaj’s Special Mention winner “Baby Bump.”
“The award changed the mindset of some producers and distributors, who at first feared their films would be labeled as ‘gay films,'” he said. “The Queer Lion has helped shift the mindset of the film industry in new directions. And despite huge progress, there are still many “fragile” LGBTQ works that need support and exposure. »