Ava DuVernay’s latest film, “Origin,” received a warm welcome at Venice Film Festival on Wednesday night, where it premiered to a five-minute and 46-second standing ovation.
The drama, which is an adaptation of Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson’s book “Caste: The Origin of Our Discontent,” left many audience members in tears as it weaved together Wilkerson’s own life story with harrowing depictions of the Holocaust, slavery and India’s caste system.
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The audience began to clap during the film’s several-minute acting credits sequence and continued as the lights came on. While the crowd cheered, DuVernay couldn’t stop smiling and encouraged the crew members with her to share in the spotlight. “Thank you,” DuVernay mouthed over and over before sharing a hug with Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera.
The film stars Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor, Niecy Nash-Betts, Jon Bernthal, Niecy Nash-Betts, Vera Farmiga, Audra McDonald, Nick Offerman, Blair Underwood, Connie Nielsen, Emily Yancy, Jasmine Cephas-Jones, Finn Wittock, Victoria Pedretti, Isha Blaaker and Myles Frost.
DuVernay wrote, produced and directed the project, which marks her first time bowing a film at Venice. She is making history this year as the first African American woman in the festival’s 80-year existence to have a film compete for the Golden Lion. Her previous directing credits include “Middle of Nowhere” (2012), which won the directing award at Sundance Film Festival, and “Selma” (2014), which was nominated for best picture at the Oscars.
During the film’s press conference earlier on Wednesday, DuVernay revealed that she has previously been told not to apply to the festival because “you won’t get in.”
“For Black filmmakers, we’re told that people who love films in other parts of the world don’t care about our stories and don’t care about our films. This is something that we are often told: you cannot play international film festivals, no one will come,” DuVernay said. “People will not come to the press conferences, people won’t come to the P&I screenings. They will not be interested in selling tickets. You might not even get into this festival, don’t apply. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told, ‘Don’t apply to Venice, you won’t get in. It won’t happen.’ And this year, something happened that hadn’t happened in eight decades before: an African American woman in competition. So now that’s a door open that I trust and hope the festival will keep open.”
Variety film critic Peter Debruge called “Origin” a “monumental look” at racism in his review out of Venice, adding, that it’s a “dense and dazzling movie.”
Ellis-Taylor was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar in 2022 for “King Richard,” and has also received acclaim for starring in DuVernay’s series “When They See Us” and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country.” Nash-Betts has collaborated with DuVernya before in both “Selma” and “When They See Us,” and is fresh off an Emmy nomination for her role in Ryan Murphy’s “Dahmer.” Bernthal also just scored an Emmy nomination for guest acting in FX’s “The Bear,” and he previously starred alongside Ellis-Taylor in “King Richard.”
“Origin” has been acquired by Neon worldwide and will open in U.S. theaters later this year.
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