Logo of the 80th Venice Film Festival
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The Venice Film Festival celebrates its 80th edition next week, but a Hollywood strike means many stars may be missing, leaving the spotlight to controversial directors like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen.

The festival, which kicks off on Wednesday, has become a key launchpad for Oscar campaigns, helped by glamorous shots of stars arriving by gondola.

But an ongoing strike by Hollywood actors and writers, the biggest industry walk-out in more than 60 years, means most are banned from publicity work.

Missing from their Venice premieres will be Emma Stone, who plays a Frankenstein-like creature in ‘Poor Things’, and Bradley Cooper, who directs and stars in ‘Maestro’ about the legendary conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein.

'The Golden Lion' prize
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Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz, who play the leads in the biopic ‘Ferrari’ from director Michael Mann (Heat), have an exemption from the Screen Actor's Guild (SAG-AFTRA) because the film was made outside the studio system, but may still stay home in solidarity.

Nonetheless, the films are still showing and many top-name directors are due to attend as they compete for the top prize, the Golden Lion, to be announced on 9 September.

Sofia Coppola presents another biopic, ‘Priscilla’, about Elvis Presley's wife, while David Fincher returns to the Lido with ‘The Killer’, more than 20 years after ‘Fight Club’ was loudly booed at the festival only to become a cult hit in the following years.

The only major casualty of the strikes has been ‘Challengers’, a tennis romance starring Zendaya that was set as the opening night film but has been delayed to next year.

US director Woody Allen poses on 11 May, 2016 during a photocall for the film 'Cafe Society' ahead of the opening of the 69th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France.
AFP

'Don't see the issue'

With star gossip at a minimum, a lot of attention risks being absorbed by the inclusion of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski in the out-of-competition section.

Allen, 87, was investigated for an alleged assault on his adopted daughter and cleared by police in the 1990s, but that has not been enough for many in the MeToo era, and he has been effectively blackballed by Hollywood.

Polanski, 90, remains a fugitive from the US over a conviction for raping a minor in the 1970s. The victim has long since forgiven him, but he faces other assault allegations. The festival says he is not attending.

French director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element), who was recently cleared of rape allegations, is in the main competition with ‘Dogman’.

Festival director Alberto Barbera defended their inclusion, telling Variety that Besson and Allen had been cleared by investigators: "With them, I don't see where the issue is."

French-Polish director and former president of the Jury, Roman Polanski, arrives on the red carpet of the 45th Deauville US Film Festival, on 7 September, 2019 in Deauville, northern France.
AFP

He acknowledged it was more complex with Polanski, but said: "I am on the side of those who say you have to distinguish between the responsibilities of the individual and that of the artist."

He says Polanski's ‘The Palace’ is full of "grotesque and surreal characters and aims to satirise humanity", and compared Allen's ‘Coup de Chance’, his 50th film and first in French, to his earlier ‘Match Point’.

Meanwhile, there are also out-of-competition premiers for a 40-minute Wes Anderson film, ‘The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar’, based on a Roald Dahl tale, and a new feature from indie favourite Richard Linklater, ‘Hit Man’.

‘The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial’, the final film from William Friedkin (The Exorcist), who died this month at 87, is also playing out of competition.

Hollywood actors went on strike in July after talks to reach a new deal with studios failed, joining writers who have been striking since May.

Their demands focus on dwindling pay in the streaming era and the threat posed by artificial intelligence.