Venice Film Festival: History and Winners

The Oldest Film Festival in the World

Venice Film Festival in 2018
VENICE, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 04: The Golden Lion (Leone d'Oro) and 75 is displayed on the red sponsorship branding in front of the red carpet of Sala Grande of Palazzo del Cinema across from the Lion's Bar as Jaeger-LeCoultre sponsers the 75th Venice Film Festival on September 4, 2018 in Venice, Italy.

Tristan Fewings / Getty Images

The Venice Film Festival is an annual festival in Venice, Italy, held in late August or early September. Since its inception in 1932 as part of the Venice Biennale art celebration, it has become one of the most prestigious film festivals in the world. Filmmakers consider the festival's top award, the Golden Lion, one of the highest honors in cinema, and many films later nominated for Academy Awards have first established their reputations at the festival.

Did You Know?

The main venue for the Venice Film Festival is the Palazzo del Cinema di Venezia, a 1032-seat theater located on the Lido sandbar in Venice.

History and Location

The inaugural Venice Film Festival was held in 1932 as the Venice International Film Festival, and, while it featured entries from nine countries, one of the aims of the festival was to highlight Italian cinema. This initiative became particularly important when it returned after a one-year break in 1934 and instituted the festival's first formal awards, two of which (Best Foreign Film and Best Italian Film) were awarded the Coppa Mussolini (Mussolini Cup), which was named after Italy's fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

During the rest of the 1930s and the early 1940s, much of the festival programming included films highlighting fascist principles from Italy and Germany, such as Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will, which won Best Foreign Documentary and was also nominated for the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film in 1935. Riefenstahl's Olympia Part Two: Festival of Beauty, about the 1936 Olympic Games in Germany, won the Mussolini Cup for Best Foreign Film in 1938. The 1940, 1941, and 1942 editions were even renamed as the Italian-German Film Festival in light of the alliance between Mussolini and Adolf Hitler's Germany.

Because of World War II, the festival was not held in 1943, 1944, or 1945 (unsurprisingly, the Mussolini Cup awards were retired when the festival returned in 1946). The Venice Film Festival was also not held in 1973, 1977, and 1978 as interest and support for the festival waned. The festival has been held annually since 1979 and the international prestige of the festival soon returned, making the Venice Film Festival one of the world's premiere film festivals. In recent years, the festival has hosted numerous world premieres of major films.

The Venice Film Festival's most prestigious award is the Golden Lion, which as created in 1949 and has been presented annually since 1980. Other major awards include the Silver Lion (for Best Director), the Grand Jury Prize (for the second-best film), and the Volpi Cup (for Best Actor and Best Actress), which is named after festival founder Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata.

Director Alfonso Cuaron wins the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival
Director Alfonso Cuaron reacts after receiving the Golden Lion award for Best Film for the movie "Roma" during the awards ceremony of the 75th Venice Film Festival on September 8, 2018 at Venice Lido. Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/Getty Images

Notable Winners

Over its nearly 90 years of history, the Venice Film Festival has featured a number of films that won major awards at Venice and would later go on to gain more recognition and success. This is a partial list of some of the festival's most notable winners.

1948 Grand International Prize of Venice: 'Hamlet'

English acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier both directed and starred in this adaptation of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, which also won the International Award for Best Actress for Jean Simmons. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

1951 Golden Lion: 'Rashomon'

The Japanese period drama Rashomon, directed by Akira Kurosawa, was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for "most outstanding foreign language film."

1951 Grand Jury Prize: 'A Streetcar Named Desire'

The film adaptation of Tennessee Williams' play A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Eliza Kazan, was the winner of the inaugural Grand Jury Prize and won four Academy Awards. Vivien Leigh also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress.

1951 Golden Lion: 'Forbidden Games'

The French war film Forbidden Games, directed by René Clément, was controversially left out out of the official program of the Cannes Film Festival and went on to win the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. It was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and won the BAFTA Award for Best Film.

1959 Golden Lion: 'The Great War' (tie)

The Italian war film The Great War, directed by Mario Monicelli, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The other Golden Lion winner was the Italian film General della Rovere.

1966 Golden Lion: 'The Battle of Algiers'

The Italian war film The Battle of Algiers, directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It was deemed eligible for the Academy Awards two years later (after screening in the United States) and was nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director.

Ators Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon in the 1980 film 'Atlantic City'
Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon in a scene from the film 'Atlantic City', 1980. Paramount/Getty Images

1980 Golden Lion: 'Atlantic City' and 'Gloria' (tie)

The Canadian-French drama Atlantic City, directed by Louis Malle, was nominated for five Academy Awards. The other winner of the Golden Lion that year, the American drama Gloria, directed by John Cassavetes, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for Gena Rowlands' performance.

1987 Golden Lion: 'Au revoir les enfants'

The French drama Au revoir les enfants, directed by Louis Malle, was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Original Screenplay. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Direction.

1990 Silver Lion: 'Goodfellas'

In addition to the Silver Lion, the American drama Goodfellas, directed by Martin Scorsese, won the Audience Award at the Venice Film Festival. It was nominated for six Academy Awards, with Joe Pesci winning for Best Supporting Actor, and also won five BAFTA Awards, including Best Film and Best Director.

1993 Golden Lion: 'Short Cuts' and 'Three Colours: Blue' (tie)

The American film Short Cuts, directed by Robert Altman, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. The other winner of the Golden Lion that year was the French drama Three Colours: Blue, which was directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, and was the first film in his "Three Colours" trilogy. Juliette Binoche also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress for her performance in Three Colours: Blue.

1994 Grand Jury Prize: 'Natural Born Killers'

The American black comedy Natural Born Killers, directed by Oliver Stone, was not nominated for any major awards after winning the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, but it was extremely controversial for its violent content.

1994 Golden Lion: Before the Rain (tie)

The drama Before the Rain, directed by Milcho Manchevski, was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The other Golden Lion winner was the Taiwanese film Vive L'Amour.

1996 Golden Lion: 'Michael Collins'

The biopic Michael Collins, directed by Neil Jordan, was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and Best Original Score. It also won the BAFTA Award for Best Direction. Liam Neeson also won the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.

2005 Golden Lion: 'Brokeback Mountain'

The American drama Brokeback Mountain, directed by Ang Lee, was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won three, including Best Director. It won three BAFTA Awards, including Best Film and the David Lean Award for Direction.

Filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and actor Mickey Rourke won the Golden Lion at the 2008 Venice Film Festival
US director Darren Aronofsky (L) and US actor Mickey Rourke pose with the Golden Lion for Best Film after the closing ceremony of the 65th Venice International Film Festival at Venice Lido, 06 September 2008. Darren Aronofsky picked up the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for "The Wrestler". Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

2008 Golden Lion: 'The Wrestler'

The American drama The Wrestler, directed by Darren Aronofsky, was nominated for two Academy Awards and won a BAFTA Award for Best Leading Actor for Mickey Rourke.

2012 Silver Lion: 'The Master'

The American drama The Master, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, was nominated for three Academy Awards and four BAFTA Awards. Stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix were both awarded the Volpi Cup for Best Actor.

2017 Golden Lion: 'The Shape of Water'

The American fantasy film The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, was nominated for 13 Academy Awards and won four, including Best Director and Best Picture. It also won three BAFTA Awards, including Best Direction and Best Foreign Language Film.

2018 Golden Lion: 'Roma'

The Mexican drama Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, received ten Academy Award nominations and won three, including Best Foreign Language Film. It also won four BAFTA Awards, including Best Film and Best Film Not in the English Language.

2018 Grand Jury Prize: 'The Favourite'

The black comedy The Favourite, directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, also received the Volpi Cup for Best Actress for Olivia Colman. The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Colman. It also won seven BAFTA Awards, including Outstanding British Film.