Redgrave, Vanessa: Oscar-Winner (Julia) Gets Venice Fest Lifetime Achievement Award

During the opening ceremony of the 2018 Venice Film Fest, before the First Man world premiere gala screening, Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta greeted Damien Chazelle, the youngest Best Director Oscar winner ever, with a warm “Welcome back!.”

Chazelle’s space epic, First Man, which is in competition, marks the second opening-night Venice bow for the 33-year-old director after his La La Land, which kicked off the 2016 festival and went on to become a critical and commercial favorite.

Vanessa Redgrave was cheerfully greeted with a standing ovation when she received a lifetime achievement Golden Lion.  Speaking in Italian, Redgrave praised the festival as “really being about the art of cinema” and said that one of the things she loves about Venice are American author Donna Leon’s Venice-set murder mysteries.

Photo: Jane Fonda (left) and Vanessa Redgrave in the 1977 film Julia, for which Redgrave won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar.

Redgrave, who’s 81, was accompanied by Italian actor Franco Nero, her second husband, whom she met when they played Lancelot and Guinevere in the film musical Camelot, a clip of which appeared in her moving career summary show reel.

As part of the Redgrave tribute Venice is also hosting a special screening of her latest film, Venice-set The Aspern Papers, the first feature by French director Julien Landais, adapted from the novella by Henry James.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of the award ceremony, Redgrave did not talk much about acting and her career, and more about her passion for urgent political issues, such as the refugees crisis in Europe.

Redgrave’s first attempt at acting, in amateur play when she was just 6, had a political motive: She hoped to raise money to help the British Navy fight Germany in World War II.

Unfortunately, Redgrave said, she flubbed one of her lines, leading to the playwright, another 6-year-old, to take the stage and announce: “’Ladies and gentlemen, Vanessa has ruined everything. We are going to start again.’ So you see,” Redgrave said, “that was my first effort to save my country. And it was quite an active effort.”

Redgrave’s efforts to combine her art and politics resulted in her first directing effort, the documentary Sea Sorrow (see photo below), a personal meditation on the global refugee crisis, which played at the Cannes Film Fest.

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She brought up the film, the plight of refugees fleeing to Europe and the indifference of politicians in Europe and elsewhere to the problem, several times during the conference. Asked about her feelings toward politicians who do nothing to address the problem, Redgrave said: “I am trying to speak seriously without swearing because I have this rage inside myself. Because politicians have lost the understanding of reality in the world, in their countries, in our countries and in the rest of the world. The have lost the sense of reality. They cannot imagine the reality of being a refugee, being a woman who loses her child at sea.”

Redgrave also discussed her rejection, in 1999, of damehood. Declining the honor, she said, had nothing to do with the British royal family, and everything to do with former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his entry into the Iraq War.

“I’m not against the royal family; they do many good things and the royal family in England is one of the red lines that can save England at certain moments,” she said. “But it isn’t the royal family or the queen who offers the honor, it’s the government of the day. So I would never say I refused an honor from the queen. But I could not and would not accept any honor form Mr. Blair, when he has taken our country, and so many people, to war on the basis of a lie.”