On Friday the 7th of September, the Venice Film Festival should have ended like every other year, with the standard award ceremony to be held in the evening. However, the red carpet that is usually trodded by movie stars was occupied by more than 300 climate activists, among them members of Extinction Rebellion, FridayForFuture, and local Venetian associations like the No Big Ships movement.
The activists all came from the Venice Climate Camp, the international camp focused on the climate crisis that was held from the 4th to the 8th of September, hosting around 400 people from all over Europe.
Once the red carpet was sized in the early morning, the occupation went on for seven hours, with a mission to raise awareness about environmental destruction and to protest against the passage of cruise ships inside the lagoon. The activists’ spokespeople made it clear that they were not targeting the Film Festival in particular, but that they wanted to bring the existence of a climate emergency into the spotlight, exploiting press coverage.
Predictably, a great deal of police surrounded the area, but the occupation remained pacific, and many passers-by offered water and food to the occupants. Moreover, after the crowd left the carpet, another demonstration took place in the afternoon, with 3,000 people — amongst them delegates from the major Italian environmental movements, international activists, and Venetian citizens — marching along the streets of the Lido against environmental destruction.
The two protests reached their objective, as in the days that followed Venice’s call against environmental destruction was all over the news; both in Italy and abroad. However, on this occasion the authorities clearly reverted to the hypocrisy often employed when dealing with climate change issues and protests. The Italian Minister for Cultural Heritage and Tourism, for example, promptly declared that by the end of his mandate the extremely polluting cruise ships won’t be allowed to travel close to Venice. While politicians gave their support to the protesters, Venice’s Chief of Police deployed a massive number of agents so that the afternoon climate march wouldn’t even come close to the Film Festival. Basically, everything was done to ensure that the award ceremony would proceed undisturbed, as if the occupation that happened just hours earlier never took place.
Moreover, this was only the latest in a line of many promises that Venetians have heard over the decades from their politicians. For example, after the unprecedented accident that happened on the 2nd of June, when a cruise ship lost control and crashed against Venice’s dock, countless politicians declared that such enormous liners would no longer be allowed inside Venice’s waters and that it was time to finally change regulations. Two months on, but the situation in the lagoon is still the same. Given the actions of Venice’s Chief of Police, and considering that not even one Venetian authority came to speak with the protesters, it’s difficult to give credit to the Minister’s words, which sound like another empty and opportunistic promise.
Likewise, the Venice Film Festival administration also arguably failed to present a coherent front when it comes to environmental ethics. Like almost every mundane and high-budget event, the festival reserved some space for the ‘climate issue’ by including in its program the short film, One Ocean, directed by the environmental artist Anne de Carbuccia, and by having the Green Drop Award, which is assigned to a film that best conveys the themes of ecology and sustainable development. The prize has a dedicated jury, as well as many related events throughout the festival.
Given these facts, one would imagine that the director of the festival, or a member of the Green Drop Award jury, or maybe even some actor and director together, would use the red carpet to talk with the protesters, or at least discuss their views regarding the occupation. But they didn’t. During the seven hours of protest, not one of the many important personalities linked to the festival showed up. The same goes for celebrities and movies stars.
The only show of support came from Mick Jagger and Donald Southerland, who were presenting the thriller The Burnt Orange Heresy and were asked about the protest during the press conference. But that’s it. No one else from the dozens of actors who participated in the festival commented on the demonstration. Of course, they are not obliged to do so, but if more and more stars are claiming to be concerned about environmental issues and are using their status to draw attention to them, why is it that no mention was given to the Venice climate protests on their socials?
It seems that celebrities and the authorities share the same strategy towards environmental problems: when climate change can be treated as a media issue, something about which to make heartfelt declarations and dedicate Instagram posts and campaigns to, everyone is ready to be on board. It’s good for the environment, since every small action counts, but it’s especially good for one’s public image. A win-win situation. But when public figures are confronted with the emergency of environmental destruction, with the necessity of taking drastic measures and, most of all, with the rage of activists; they disappear, since they don’t know how to handle the situation.
Fortunately, protesters and independent associations can make sure that climate change doesn’t remain confined to being a fashion statement or an electoral campaign trump card. Actions, not just words spoken in a virtual tunnel, are the determinants to help us see who really cares about this issue and who is just exploiting it for its own sake.