Behind the Scenes: Venice Film Festival

Words by Belmond Editors
A guest dressed in white, carrying a white umbrella, disappears down a passageway in the hotel grounds, in black and white.

As a haven for celebrities during the Venice Film Festival, Hotel Cipriani has been a celebrity haven for decades. But how is this magic nurtured behind the scenes? The staff tell all...

Move aside, Cannes: the Venice Film Festival — also known by its more florid name Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia — is the world’s most historic celebration of cinema. Each year, the finest filmmakers, casts in tow, make their way to the shores of Lido di Venezia in the Venetian lagoon for a 10-day event in honour of the silver screen, dating back to 1932.

Ever since its starry beginnings, the Venice Film Festival has been considered an annual launch pad for the greatest films. In the last decade alone, Oscar-winning films such as Gravity, Birdman, Spotlight, La La Land, Roma, Dune and The Whale have all premiered here, alongside a host of arthouse titles from filmmakers around the world. But with such buzz surrounding these releases and actors, in-between the flashbulb-lit red carpets and endless press junkets, the stars need somewhere away from the brouhaha of the Lido and from the Venice mainland to seek refuge. They called, and Hotel Cipriani — a secluded oasis a stone’s throw away on Giudecca island — answered.

With an Olympic-sized pool, floral gardens and Michelin-starred dining, Hotel Cipriani has become the ultimate place for talent to retreat. The moment they pull up to the private dock they can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that peace — and a Bellini or two — are but moments away. The guest book is a who’s who of artistic glamour: Yves Saint Laurent, Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve, Cary Grant, Burt Reynolds, Brad Pitt, Paul McCartney, Cate Blanchett... and making their stay effortless is the Hotel Cipriani team, a group of passionate individuals who have perfected the art of hospitality.

Below, learn about their unique relationships with the hotel and the festival, and how they maintain a home-away-from-home discretion just heartbeats away from the world’s cultural stage.

Roberto Gatto, Chef at Cip’s Club

I’m Roberto Gatto. This is my 30th year at Hotel Cipriani, and 15 years since I became a chef at Cip’s Club. It’s the best place in the world.

I love films, especially post-WWII Italian neorealism like the works of Federico Fellini, Luchino Visconti and Pietro Germi — the real Golden Age. Two of my favourites are Bicycle Thieves (1948) directed by Vittorio De Sica, and Fellini’s Amarcord (1973).

The best thing about working at Hotel Cipriani? It’s a combination. Firstly, the kitchen staff, who are not just my colleagues, but my friends. But also it’s the city of Venice. Normally you travel around the world to discover new places and people, but the whole world comes to Venice. It just has a nice feeling — no cars, no stress.

The atmosphere and ambience is different during the festival. Guests tend to arrive late, after their evening premieres on the Lido, and often we have lots of little parties that continue into the night. A long time ago, we used to serve new dishes and a special menu during the festival, but really what people want is the classics, the perfect Venetian dishes we have year-round.

With all the guests we have hosted, I could write a book full of anecdotes! One of the most fun diners was Nicolas Cage, a fantastic man who was making everyone laugh — staff and other guests included. We had Elton John, and lots of movie stars. When it comes to 11 o’ clock, midnight, they really start to relax and you feel their true selves come out. We can turn a dinner into a little party for someone in five minutes when the ambience is right. They escape from Lido and come here, and this becomes their safe haven. But some of the best memories must stay a secret, because there is nothing we respect more than our guests’ privacy.

Andrea Zennaro, Doorman

I’m Andrea, doorman at Hotel Cipriani, and I’ve worked here since 2018. I’m not much of a cinema expert, but recently I’ve been watching all of Quentin Tarantino’s films. I really liked The Hateful Eight (2015). That film only takes place in only one or two locations despite it being 3 hours long, which I think is an amazing accomplishment.

During the film festival, more than ever, you have to really be on top. Concentration, attention, patience... but always with a smile. I love the dynamic we have here as we welcome VIP guests to the hotel jetty. They come to us from the Lido where they’ve had busy or stressful days with all their interviews and press junkets, and sometimes all they need is a smiling face to shed their worries and feel welcome.

As a doorman, I’m the first person guests meet when they arrive. I don’t want to take too much of their time — I want them to come inside and relax. But there’s a been a few times where guests are in a great, chatty mood; Brad Pitt was very fun, punching me playfully on the shoulder and asking me about my day, and then recognising me the next year with a big smile. Last year, we had Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez; it was a little stressful for them because there was so much paparazzi, but I helped protect their privacy and facilitate their journey over to the Lido. When we work a long day, we just want to come home, take off our shoes, and see a friendly face. That’s the feeling I want to create for guests at the Hotel Cipriani jetty.

Barbara Maniacco, Guest Relation Manager

I’m Barbara and I’m the Guest Relations Manager here at Hotel Cipriani. I’ve been working here for the past 12 years. Everybody in the world knows the legendary names who stay here, so I’m very proud to call this my place of work — especially during the festival.

My favourite movie ever is Dirty Dancing. It’s the first movie I ever saw in a cinema. I went with my sister and we loved it so much we watched it for a second time straight away... when we got home our mum went crazy, because we were out much longer than we said we would be!

I love working at the Hotel Cipriani. With the amazing ambience and guests, it’s a privilege. We have a lot of celebrities with us during the film festival, and when they’re here you really see their human side which is wonderful. When you are a part of their lives for just a moment, you really get to see behind-the-scenes, and you learn that that everyone has the same insecurities and fears.

Around 10 years ago, I saw that Simon Le Bon from Duran Duran was coming to stay. As a teenager, he was my favourite singer — I used to completely cry over him! That’s the only time I ever allowed myself to ask a guest — with permission from his wife — for a big hug. He was so friendly, and for me, that was an incredible moment.

Jenny Bulba and Valentina Gentina, Laundry Room

I’m Jenny, and I’ve worked at Hotel Cipriani since 2006. I read up a lot about all the actors and directors who are coming to the film festival, because I’m really passionate about art and cinema. My favourite film is Once Upon a Time in America (1984) directed by Sergio Leone. Sadly, as this is our busiest time of year at the hotel, I don’t have the time to go to the Lido, but we still can make a difference for the stars here. One time during the festival, I ironed a suit belonging to George Clooney... and then I went home, turned on the television, and there he was, on the red carpet, in the suit that I had ironed. Without me, he wouldn’t have looked so smart!


My name is Valentina, and I’ve been with Hotel Cipriani since 1992. I love working in the luxury sector, and I’m proud to work for such an iconic hotel, with the best people — both in terms of the staff and also the guests. The film festival is a busy, but exciting, time. My own favourite film is The Devil's Advocate (1997) with Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. Because I’m a seamstress, sometimes I go to the guests’ rooms to help them with alterations. Often there are last-minute requests, so we have to be really flexible, especially with all the late-night premieres happening on the Lido. Some years ago, I was called to make a last-minute emergency alteration for Amber Heard. When I walked into the room, the entire room was filled with jewelry... I’ve never seen so much jewelry in my life! I'll never forget that moment.

Marco Valmanara, Content Creation Manager and Former Lifeguard

I'm Marco, and I was born here in Venice. I started working for Belmond ten years ago as a lifeguard at Hotel Cipriani. I took a different path after my studies and began working with photography and social media, and seven years ago, I started working with Belmond again, working on content creation and art direction for Belmond’s hotels in Southern Europe.

One of my favourite films I saw recently actually relates to the film festival — Joker (2019) directed by Todd Philips, which won the Golden Lion when it premiered here. That year, at Hotel Cipriani’s Bar Gabbiano, we had a special cocktail inspired by the movie. It was green, but with red around the rim; when you took a sip, the Joker’s smile appeared on your face.

One time when I was working as a lifeguard, I was closing the pool at around 9pm in the evening when I saw someone swimming in the pool, and realized it was Keira Knightley. She wanted to continue swimming, so we kept the pool open. I could see how relaxed she was, walking around the pool, barefoot, no make-up, with a lovely linen dress. She looked extremely happy, in a great mood, and was really funny to talk to. A beautiful smile and really kind.

Another iconic moment was when Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck were departing Hotel Cipriani in 2021 while promoting the Ridley Scott film The Last Duel. It was really late in the evening, totally dark, and there were a lot of boats and paparazzi by the hotel with flashbulb lights going off. When they arrived on the dock, all the paparazzi were shouting “Bennifer, Bennifer!” — I was in one of the higher rooms, watching this iconic moment play out. I loved being witness to this level of glamour. Also, last year, I captured a great video of Timothée Chalamet, Taylor Russel and Luca Guadagnino, when they were promoting Bones and All. There are so many moments like this... even as I sit and speak to you now, George and Amal Clooney are having lunch next to us! And the best thing is, they are very relaxed. The atmosphere always remains private.

Andrea Giordano, Lifeguard

I’m Andrea, and I’ve worked at Hotel Cipriani for seven years as a lifeguard. My favourite film at the moment is Christopher Nolan’s Inception (2010).

Things are slightly different during the festival, because only hotel guests can come to the pool area. It’s super exclusive to protect their privacy; we have a heightened level of security. But the service itself is not so different to normal, as we are used to taking care of very important guests year-round. I met Jason Momoa in 2021 when he was promoting Dune. I was carrying some towels when I heard someone call me and ask me for a fresh one. He was very kind and funny. There was another time when I was closing the pool at around 8:30pm, and Bradley Cooper and Irina Shayk were there with their child. They wanted to be alone, so they were waiting for the pool to close so they could go for a swim. They were also really friendly.

Aerial view of Belmond Hotel Cipriani, with St Mark's square in the distance


Gliding on the water in the slow ballet of boats, any arrival at Hotel Cipriani carries a cinematic mystery. A serene home from home, our careful blend of relaxation and artistry is why our Venice hotel is a true legend.


Delve deeper into

You might also enjoy