A Portrait of a City Being Admired to Death
By STEPHEN HOLDEN , New York Times
March 16, 2005
Something is way out of balance when a historic city has become such an alluring magnet that its annual tourist traffic outnumbers the resident population by more than 200 to 1. That is the situation addressed in Carole and Richard Rifkind's documentary, "The Venetian Dilemma," which casts a sharply critical eye on plans to accelerate tourism in Venice, a city that already receives 14 million tourists a year. The filmmakers, both New Yorkers, acquired a second home in Venice in 1990.
The hordes descending on the city are a far cry from the wealthy European and American visitors of earlier decades who made it an elite cafe-society playground. The camera-toting mobs who arrive are more the sorts whose idea of a souvenir from anywhere is a Hard Rock Cafe T-shirt or a coffee mug.
They whirr through the canals in motorized water taxis that exceed speed limits - which are unenforced - because faster trips allow more rides, and more rides mean more revenue. The damage, already well documented, to ancient building foundations by propeller-driven waves is enormous. The movie warns that if Venice's current population of 65,000 continues to shrink (it was more than twice that in 1960), the 1,500-year-old city could make the final plunge from a place where people live and work into a museum.
It is already a kind of high-art Disneyland. Mask shops have sprouted everywhere, but it's difficult to find a bakery. Bars and restaurants with outside seating, owned by international operators employing Venetian managers, are crowding out the teeming street life.
Accelerating the city's rush into museumhood is an ambitious redevelopment project promoted by the city's deputy mayor of planning, Roberto D'Agostino. A centerpiece of his proposal is a subway, not yet approved, that would link Venice to the airport on the mainland. Mr. D'Agostino is a charming, enthusiastic civic booster who also envisions the construction of a convention center and revitalization of the harbor. It all sounds lovely, until the local residents voice their doubts.
Michela Scibilia, a graphic designer, author of a local guidebook and mother of two, complains that the city has such limited day-care facilities and recreational opportunities for children that it's almost impossible to bring up a family. Danilo Palmieri, a fruit and vegetable vendor, describes an easygoing metropolitan life that is vanishing as businesses like his are driven away.
The most outspoken critic of development, Paolo Lanapoppi, is an environmentalist whose 10-year crusade against the unregulated motorboats has yielded some concessions from the city government. But since more than half the residents earn a living from tourism, the proponents of development are at least as vocal as the opposition.
If this small, homemade movie offers some attractive views of the city and its canals, it lacks any sense of historical grandeur. As the talking heads chatter away, the film resembles an elongated segment of a local news show padded to a feature-film length.
Produced and directed by Carole Rifkind and Richard Rifkind; in English and Italian, with English subtitles; directors of photography, Giovanni Andreotta and Roberto Cimatti; edited by Joshua Waletzky; music by Joel Goodman; released by Parnassus Works. At the Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 73 minutes. This film is not rated.