As a reader of UrbanToronto, I'll venture that you consider yourself a lover of cities, and if you love cities, you have either already been to Venice, or you plan to go.
I'm in the second camp of people listed above: I've never been to Venice, I've seen it a thousand times in books, in movies, and on tv, and I happily commiserate with anyone else in my situation who also longs for the day they'll get to see it up close: I want to get there "before it sinks".
Few places throughout the world can match Venice for its romantic, time-worn allure. Known best for its canals and architecture, anyone who follows the news also knows that Venice has its share of troubles too, mostly for its slow subsidence into the lagoon on which it is built, and also for the increased threat from rising sea levels during this era of climate change.
As a city-lover with a particular crush on all things Italian, I also lap up information on la Serenissima, and The Venice Syndrome, opening Friday, July 26 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema, is a brilliant but very sobering chance to learn about another of Venice's greatest threats: you and me.
The Venice Syndrome, directed by Andreas Pichler and stunningly shot by Attila Boa, reveals that Venice is not just dealing with very serious water issues, but that its very existence as a city is imperilled by the way that tourism and the real estate market is changing it. Only 58,000 people now live in a city that once housed a quarter million, and many of those who are left are considering their options.
The documentary introduces us to a cross section of Venetians caught in a city that no longer caters to its inhabitants; grocery and furniture stores have given way to trinket shops, and the real estate is now only affordable for the international jet set. Venice is becoming more of an amusement park and less of an actual city, which disgusts Tudy Sammartini, pictured above, resident and writer for international design magazine Abitare. We meet a local realtor who laments lying to purchasers of villas and flats about the health of the city. Even a Venetian who has made a living moving people out of town is being forced to move out himself. A former prince among Venetian gondoliers remembers when travellers actually spent time in Venice, not half a day.
With all the doom and gloom, why do people still want to go to Venice? The film still displays the city's achingly beautiful buildings, piazzas, canals, monuments, and many a back alley. Despite centuries of decay this place is still inescapably enchanting, and Attila Boa's photography captures it in all moods from the most sparkling day to the softness of dusk.
Any viewer is likely to be left conflicted. The Venice Syndrome is a wake-up call, not a feel-good film, so don't expect to leave the theatre happy. You should leave feeling smarter however, better informed. I feel like I now know Venice better than a lot of tourists who have traipsed through it. I still want to join their number, but I don't want to be a part of the problem. Knowledge is power though, and for there to be enough to power to change Venice's current course toward theme park oblivion, many more people need to share in the knowledge.
The Venice Syndrome starts the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema this Friday and will play for a week. Check the schedule here.