Ava DuVernay’s latest feature Origin made a major splash at the Venice Film Festival Wednesday, earning a nine-minute standing ovation and hoots of appreciation as the curtain came down on its world premiere.
DuVernay is making history in Italy this week. Origin is the very first movie by a Black female director from the U.S. to be included in Venice’s official competition across the event’s 80-year duration. (Watch the trailer for Origin below.)
An innovative drama, Origin is inspired by the remarkable life and work of Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson — played by Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard) — as she pens her recent, seminal non-fiction book, Caste: The Origin of Our Discontents. While grappling with tremendous personal tragedy, Wilkerson sets herself on a path of global investigation and discovery. Despite the colossal scope of her project, she finds beauty and bravery while crafting one of the defining American books of recent years.
At a press conference earlier on Wednesday, DuVernay spoke to the significance of Origin‘s inclusion in Venice, widely considered among the most influential celebrations of cinema in the world. She lamented how Black U.S. filmmakers are often led to believe by the industry that international film festivals are simply not a natural place for their work.
“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,” she said. “This is something that we are often told — you cannot play international film festivals, no one will come, people will not come to your press conference, people will not come to the P&I screenings, they will not be interested in selling tickets, you may not even get into this festival, so don’t apply. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told not to apply to Venice, you won’t get in. It won’t happen. And this year, it happened.”
Origin was acquired by influential indie distributor Neon for worldwide distribution on the day before its premiere, following a negotiation process that was described as “competitive.” The film is getting a North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival after Venice and ahead of the theatrical release later this year.
DuVernay previously made history as the first Black woman to direct a film nominated for the Academy Award for best picture with Selma, chronicling Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s leadership during the landmark 1965 civil rights marches. She was also nominated for the best documentary feature Oscar for 13th, an in-depth look at the U.S. prison system and how it reveals the nation’s history of racial inequality.