Protest T-shirts and gorgeous gowns at the opening of Venice Film Festival 2023

Absence of Hollywood stars gives space for others to shine on the pared-back first night

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No Hollywood stars showed up to the Venice Film Festival opening on Wednesday, highlighting the scale of the continuing WGA and Sag-AFTRA strikes.

Instead, at the opening press conference, competition jury members Laura Poitras, Damien Chazelle and Martin McDonagh all wore T-shirts that read “Writers Guild on Strike!” in a gesture of solidarity with the American writers' and the actors’ unions.

The strike has been running since May 2, when the Writers Guild of America walked out over a long-running dispute with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers over residual payments for streamed programmes. The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists joined the strike on July 13.

As the first major event of the award season, all eyes are on Venice to see how stars with films to promote will handle the delicate balancing act of supporting their projects without breaking picket lines.

A few major stars have already confirmed their attendance, including Mads Mikkelsen, Caleb Landry Jones and Adam Driver, who was granted a waiver by Sag-Aftra as his film Ferrari is an independent production.

Actress Jessica Chastain will also attend, but how or if she will work the T-shirt into her look is anyone's guess. She could forego a gown, and instead wear a tuxedo like the men, or she could pair the top with a floor-length skirt to keep it the centre of attention.

She might, however, duck out of the issue altogether and just enjoy wearing a beautiful dress for the evening. We will have to wait and see.

There was a red carpet on Wednesday, however, and while it was missing the usual host of big names, this shift of focus may prove to be a boon to non-American names, giving them space to shine.

Model Madisin Rian from the Dominican Republic, and the first black woman to be signed to Giorgio Armani Beauty, arrived wearing a shimmering Armani Prive dress.

Fellow model Mariacarla Boscono wore a dramatically laced Dolce & Gabbana.

Director and jury member Jane Campion wore a chic trouser suit by Christian Dior, while the event's patroness Caterina Murino wore a strapless Armani Prive gown with Cartier jewellery.

Lebanese television presenter Raya Abirached, meanwhile, opted for a form-fitting mermaid gown covered in beading.

“Today is the 121st day that the writers in Hollywood have been on strike and the 48th day that the actors have been on strike,” said jury president Chazelle, in explanation of why he was wearing the T-shirt.

“There’s a basic idea that each work of art has value unto itself, it’s not just a piece of content to be put into a pipeline. That idea, of how art can be made sustainable, has been eroded. To me that’s the core issue, that’s where the debate about residuals comes from. It’s about people being remunerated for each piece of art. It’s about art over content.”

He added that many colleagues in Hollywood had made the difficult decision not to attend the Italian festival.

“It’s a very hard time in Hollywood for everyone affected by the standstill. We wanted some way to acknowledge that,” he said.

Updated: August 31, 2023, 11:38 AM