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Venice Fest closes out amid cheers

VENICE, Italy (AP) — The Venice Film Festival is wrapping up the first in-person COVID-era international cinema showcase, with critics, filmmakers and actors cheering organizers for having dared to hold the festival amid a pandemic and for demonstrating how to go to the movies again safely.

The festival’s coveted Golden Lion awards were being handed out Saturday night before a masked audience conspicuously lacking in Hollywood star power, given that coronavirus travel restrictions kept all but a few American productions away.

Eighteen films were vying for the top awards in the main competition, including a record eight directed by women. Cate Blanchett headed the main jury.

That the 10-day festival took place at all was something of a miracle, given that northern Italy in late February became ground zero for Europe’s coronavivrus outbreak. The Cannes Film Festival was canceled and other big international festivals in Toronto and New York opted to go mostly online.

But after Italy managed to tame its infections with a strict 10-week lockdown, Venice decided to go ahead, albeit under safety protocols that would have previously been unthinkable for a festival that has prided itself on spectacular visuals and glamorous clientele.

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