Artists Ai Weiwei, Shirin Neshat, and Laurie Anderson to Premiere Their Films at Venice Film Festival This Weekend

The oldest film festival in the world is adding a new VR section and hosting the international debut of Ai Weiwei's documentary.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei eats as he meets with Palestinian female university students in Gaza City during filming of "Human Flow" Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images.

The 74th Venice International Film Festival, organized by the Venice Biennale, will feature three new films by artists this year, including Ai Weiwei, Shirin Neshat, and Laurie Anderson. The film festival opens tomorrow and runs through September 9.

Ai Weiwei’s new documentary, Human Flow, will get its world premiere as one of the 21 feature-length films selected for the international competition “Venezia 74.” Also in the competition is the star-studded Darren Aronofsky thriller, Mother!, which gets a special mention for art insiders because of its Stefan Simchowitz cameo.

Elsewhere, the avant-garde and mixed-media artists Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang’s The Sand Room will have its debut in the Festival’s new “Virtual Reality” section, and Shirin Neshat’s Looking for Oum Kulthum will premiere at an autonomous parallel section of the festival, the Giornate degli Autori-Venice Days.

Still from Ai Weiwei’s Human Flow. ©2017 Human Flow UG, Courtesy Venice Film Festival.

Ai Weiwei’s first feature-length documentary Human Flow is well poised for the festival’s Golden Lion for Best Film. The documentary examines the massive human displacement prompted by the current refugee crisis, shot over more than a year in 23 countries. The film is produced by Participant Media and AC Films, and Amazon Studios recently announced its release in select US theaters, from October 13.

Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang, La Camera Insabbiata (The Sand Room). Courtesy Venice Film Festival.

A new section at the festival, Venice Virtual Reality, will run from August 31-September 5 at the VR Theater on Lazzaretto Vecchio island. Among the 22 Virtual Reality works selected for the first competition of its kind are six room-scale installations, six Oculus, and three Vive stand ups.

Laurie Anderson and Hsin-Chien Huang’s La Camera Insabbiata (The Sand Room) is an interactive Vive installation one can explore flying across the rooms by touching the two controllers to one another. One room asks the visitor to sing, the sound of which molds itself into a sculpture, which will be left for future visitors to touch and listen to. The ambitious project will compete for the three VR prizes awarded by an international jury: Best VR, Best VR Experience, and Best VR Story.

Still from Shirin Neshat’s, Looking for Oum Kulthum. Courtesy Razor Film

Finally, away from the official competition, Shirin Neshat’s film, Looking for Oum Kulthum, premieres at an event on the fringes of the main festival showcasing innovative, well-researched, original, and independent cinema. The Iranian artist and filmmaker’s latest offering will be competing for the €20,000 Giornate degli Autori Award, as well as a number of parallel distinctions.

The Razor Film production follows Mitra, an ambitious filmmaker in her forties working on a movie about the titular character, the legendary Egyptian singer and actress Oum Kulthum, perhaps the most influential Arab singer of the 20th century. The film is Mitra’s dream project–it  explores the Egyptian diva’s sacrifice of family life in the name of success and her struggles to be recognized as a female artist in a male-dominated society. Striving to capture the mythic personality of the singular musical artist, Mitra’s own difficulties merge with Oum Kulthum’s and she finds herself careening towards her own emotional and artistic breakdown.

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