Venice Film Festival, Vanessa Kirby’s Deal With Netflix And Michelle Hurd’s SAG-AFTRA President’s Award For Sexual Assault Activism -- Industry News Roundup

It’s not a surprise that this week’s industry news focus is on WOMEN ♀️amidst the shocking news about Texas’s new restrictive abortion law, which is being compared to a real life version of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Hollywood celebs took to social media to unleash their anger about the new abortion law. Michelle Hurd received the SAG-AFTRA President’s Award for sexual abuse activism in the entertainment industry. And Vanessa Kirby signed a first-look deal with Netflix for female-focused films. These and other news stories of the week.

Venice Film Festival Opens

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Stars have returned to Venice’s red carpet.

Unlike rival Cannes, the Venice film Festival did not skip the 2020 edition due to COVID-19, but celebrities are just returning in force this year.

Composed of 300 members, the covered group includes writers, producers, booking producers, fact-checkers, and planners on MSNBC programs and Peacock’s The Choice. In a statement announcing unionization back in June, the group wrote that they wanted to join the Guild to promote greater diversity in the newsroom, fair pay, strong benefits, career development opportunities, and “because we want to make sure workers have a say in what a post-COVID-19 workplace looks like.”

Organizers have placed a strict anti-COVID-19 protocol to keep everyone safe during the 11-day movie marathon. The festival reported zero positive COVID-19 results in the first days, according to Deadline.

Theatres are operating at half capacity and a wall blocks the view to the red carpet to stop crowds from gathering outside the main venue. Face masks and a health pass or a negative COVID test are required to attend screenings, and there will be fewer late-night parties.

"Everybody everywhere is eager to come back, to reopen, to restart, to release the films that stayed on the shelf for a year and a half or maybe two years," festival director Alberto Barbera told Reuters.

Titles vying for the Golden Lion award for the best film include Jane Campion's The Power of the Dog, with Benedict Cumberbatch as a ranch owner who torments a young widow played by Dunst, and Kristen Stewart's turn as Princess Diana in Spencer."

In his review, Deadline’s Pete Hammond called the film a “spectacular and defining version of the sci-fi cult classic.”

South Korean Parasite director Bong Joon-ho, who presides over the jury, said he was ready for a fight with fellow jury members to pick the award winners.

"As a film-maker I don't believe cinema can be stopped so easily. COVID will pass, cinema will continue," he said.

Hollywood Explodes at Texas Over Restrictive Abortion Law

LA Times reported that celebrities took to social media to unleash their anger about Texas’s new abortion law, comparring it to a “a real version” of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel and Hulu drama The Handmaid’s Tale.

The law went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court early Thursday morning on Sept.2, denied an appeal brought by abortion providers seeking to block its implementation.The Texas Heartbeat Act prohibits abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks of gestation, and gives individuals the right to file civil lawsuits against those who provide, seek or help a person procure an abortion.

It is the first time since 1973, the year of the Roe v. Wade decision, that a state law banning most abortions has become law. Under the Roe decision and subsequent rulings, abortions have been considered protected until the 23rd or 24th week of pregnancy.

Here’s a look at some reactions from celebs:

Vanessa Kirby Strikes First-Look Deal With Netflix for Female-Focused Films

Vanessa Kirby Strikes First-Look Deal With Netflix for Female-Focused Films

British actress Vanessa Kirby has set up a new production company, Aluna Entertainment, and also signed a first-look deal with Netflix -- Variety reports.

Netflix announced a multi-year deal with the actress and her production company for a number of feature films with a focus on projects that would “explore the spectrum of the female experience.”

The partnership was revealed on the eve of the 2021 Venice Film Festival, where last year Kirby won the best actress award for Pieces of a Woman, which was picked up by Netflix.

“It has long been a dream of mine to produce and I have found the perfect partners in my friends at Netflix,” said Kirby. “They have been an inspiring creative home for me from The Crown to Pieces of a Woman and I am thrilled to be on this journey alongside them. In Lauren I’ve found a true ally and we are united in our ambition to explore stories that relate to the uncharted female experience.”
For Aluna, Kirby has partnered with Lauren Dark, who joins from Film4 where she was a senior executive.

“Vanessa is an extraordinary artist and I’m excited to be joining her and our new partners at Netflix on this journey. We share a passion for telling untold stories in their most ambitious and dynamic form. It has been an enormous privilege to be at Film4 for the past four years with such a talented and supportive team, alongside some of the very best filmmakers,” Dark said.

“Vanessa has delivered powerful and unforgettable performances as an actor and we know that she will equally captivate audiences with her creative vision as a producer,” said David Kosse, VP of international original films at Netflix. “I couldn’t be more thrilled to work with her and the team at Aluna to bring their films to our members around the world.”

We can’t wait to see Kirby’s new femme-focused films and hope that they will include all kinds of womxn.

SAG-AFTRA Elects Fran Drescher as President

SAG-AFTRA Elects Fran Drescher as President

After a hard battle during the national election, Fran Drescher, who starred in the 1990s CBS show The Nanny, has been elected as SAG-AFTRA’s next president, prevailing over rival Matthew Modine.

Drescher received 16,958 votes, followed by Modine with 15,371 votes, the union announced on Sept. 2.

“I am honored to serve my union in this capacity. Together we will navigate through these troubled times of global health crisis and together we will rise up out of the melee to do what we do best, entertain and inform,” Drescher shared in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter.

“We must never forget the important contribution we make to many millions of people each and every day when they buy a ticket to sit in a dark theater or turn on their TVs or streaming devices. Our chosen professions within the SAG-AFTRA membership have literally gotten Americans to laugh, to learn to momentarily escape that we are all in a pandemic. We members serve an invaluable purpose in the grand scheme of things. We must never forget who we are and what unites us as one union. Today marks the beginning of a fresh start, let us forge forward in a holistic and non-partisan ascension towards the precipice of a new dawn,” Drescher continued.

“Only as a united front will we have strength against the real opposition in order to achieve what we all want: more benefits, stronger contracts and better protections. Let us lock elbows and together show up with strength at the negotiating table,” the actress continued, noting that she will equally “fight like hell” for those who voted for her as well as for her opponents.

Malibu-based Drescher, a cancer survivor and founder of the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer, has previously been involved in politics. She was appointed in 2008 as public diplomacy envoy for health for the U.S. State Department.

According to LA Times, the new president will lead the union’s next round of bargaining with Hollywood studios in 2023. SAG-AFTRA and other Hollywood unions are pushing for a larger cut of profits from the rise of streaming platforms, an issue that has already sparked high-profile legal disputes.

Michelle Hurd Receives SAG-AFTRA President’s Award For Sexual Assault Activism

SAG-AFTRA Elects Fran Drescher as President

Before departing her role as President of SAG-AFTRA, Gabrielle Carteris awarded actor, activist, and National Board member Michelle Hurd with the SAG-AFTRA President’s Award. This prestigious honor recognizes individuals demonstrating outstanding commitment to SAG-AFTRA’s membership and the labor movement -- Blackfilm.com reported.

The actress has put a lot of effort into removing sexual abuse from the entertainment industry and making sets safer. As a member of the SAG-AFTRA President’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Safety and the union’s sexual harassment workgroup, she created resources for members who experienced sexual abuse and assisted in developing guidelines and policies to eliminate abuse from the industry. Her work led to the creation and development of the Intimacy Coordinator initiative and helped create SAG-AFTRA Safe Place, a reporting platform that allows members to discreetly report incidents of sexual abuse.

“Michelle Hurd is a changemaker. She is a shining example of how to balance a successful acting career with dedicated union service and a commitment to improving the lives of SAG-AFTRA members and all workers,” said former SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris. “Michelle has led from the frontlines in our efforts to ensure the safety and protection of SAG-AFTRA members and to help eradicate sexual harassment from the entertainment industry. Additionally, she represented the organization before legislative bodies advocating for laws that support and empower members and all workers. Because of her efforts, Hollywood is a safer and better place. Our members are forever indebted to Michelle for her selfless commitment to the SAG-AFTRA mission and we look forward to continuing our partnership in the years ahead.”

In Kosovo’s Budding Film Industry, Women Find Their Voice With a Roar

SAG-AFTRA Elects Fran Drescher as President

Kosovar filmmaker Kaltrina Krasniqi has had a long love affair with cinema, and she has taken her journey to the Venice Film Festival for the world premiere of her feature debut Vera Dreams of the Sea.

It’s been a breakout year for the developing Kosovar film industry, which began with Blerta Basholli’s feature debut, Hive, winning three awards, including the Grand Jury Prize, at the Sundance Film Festival. Another first-time filmmaker, Norika Sefa, followed that triumph by taking a special jury prize in Rotterdam for Looking for Venera. And in Cannes, French-Kosovar actress-turned-director Luàna Bajrami, known for her breakthrough role in Celine Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, bowed her directorial debut, The Hill Where Lionesses Roar, in the Directors’ Fortnight section.

“Under any circumstances it would be considered a remarkable year for a country of two million that only opened its first film school 20 years ago. But against the backdrop of a devastating war whose aftershocks can still be felt, the rise of the Kosovar film industry is one of the unlikeliest success stories in world cinema today,” Variety’s Christopher Vourlias writes.

The rise of the Kosovar film industry is mostly being led by women. In the past, Krasniqi tells Variety, “we were not seeing ourselves and our stories in films,” noting that women in Kosovar cinema had long been relegated to supporting roles. After the war, however, female filmmakers began to rewrite the script. “Being treated as a second-class citizen all of your life gives you access to particular types of stories.”

A lot has changed since the devastating war of the 1990s that caused an incalculable physical and psychological toll on a country that is still rebuilding. After thousands of men were killed during the war, women were left to rebuild.

Now in Kosovo, the president and nearly 40% of Parliament are women – something Krasniqi credits to the hard work of her mother’s generation.

“Our society has gone through some seriously dramatic changes in a very short amount of time. I can’t imagine a life where I would have to negotiate my freedom at every step,” she says. “For me to feel as I feel, to be as free and independent as I am, that is the war my mother fought.”

That war has allowed a younger generation of women to find their voices through film and bring their own experiences to the screen.

Though their stories are based in Kosovo, they are relatable to all women. “Women and other marginalized groups…have always been sidelined,” says Krasniqi. “Patriarchy was not invented in the Balkans.“

Arben Zharku, the former director of the Kosovo Cinematography Center (KCC), notes that the industry’s sudden success came after a decade-long effort to lay a foundation that allows those filmmakers to thrive. The KCC has been crucial in giving the small industry international reach, establishing partnerships with the likes of Prague’s FAMU film and TV school, the EAVE producers workshop, the Les Arc Film Festival, and the Rotterdam Lab to boost education and training opportunities for all Kosovar filmmakers.

“It’s not that we thought we should support women more or less,” says Zharku. “It just comes naturally, if you build a good system.”

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Demi Vitkute writes the weekly entertainment industry news blog for Productions.com. She’s a journalist who has covered entertainment, fashion, and culture. Demi is a founder of The Urban Watch Magazine and has written for The Washington Post, Inside Hook, and Promo Magazine, among others. She is a graduate of Columbia Journalism School and Emerson College.