The global health crisis has forced major festivals to postpone or cancel their 2020 editions – including Venice’s historic rival, Cannes, usually held in May.

Despite Italy being among the worst-hit countries in the world, with over 33,000 deaths from the virus, the director of the Venice Film Festival, Alberto Barbera, is defiant in the face of the disease, insisting the 77th edition will go ahead from September 2 to 12.

Italy has been slowly emerging from its drastic nationwide lockdown and organisers in the canal city are betting on a return to normality in the hard-hit north of the country by the end of the European summer.

However, the first post-coronavirus festival will have to adhere to new sanitary and social distancing rules.

“It will be a unique edition,” Barbera said on Instagram this week.

“We still don’t know exactly what we’ll be able to do, but in the meantime are selecting the films and drawing up a plan to allow everyone to participate safely.”

Barbera has repeatedly ruled out the proposal the prestigious event could be held online, leaving experts to suggest the number of films shown – usually over 200 – will be significantly reduced.

Familiar scenes of paparazzi snapping photographs of A-listers on the red carpet, and crowds of fans and film lovers are also unlikely.

Traditionally held on the Lido, the festival could also include new spaces for film viewing this year.

Some have suggested that the Arsenal shipyards, where the city’s famed art and architecture biennials are held, could be turned into cinemas, with only a limited, pre-booked number of viewers allowed inside.

Whether the who’s who of the film world will be seen this year jetting across the lagoon in speedboats or socialising at the festival’s parties remains to be seen.

In an interview with Italian news agency ANSA, president of the Venice Biennale, Roberto Cicutto, admitted that he expected “foreign attendance will be necessarily much smaller” this year than in past editions of the festival.

But Giona Nazzaro, a programmer who has helped revitalise Film Critics’ Week, a Venice sidebar show, told Italian newspaper Manifesto that the festival going ahead provided a much-needed glimmer of light in dark times.

“That an industry suffering like the film industry is starting up again is a sign of hope,” he said.

Back in January, it was announced that Australian actor Cate Blanchett will preside over the main competition jury at the festival, marking the third woman in four years to hold that role.

The Venice International Film Festival is considered the oldest film festival in the world.