File - Actor Javier Bardem poses for photographers during the photo call of the film "Loving Pablo" at the Venice Film Festival. The 77th Venice Film Festival will kick off on Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020, but this year's edition will be unlike any others. Coronavirus restrictions will mean fewer Hollywood stars, no crowds interacting with actors and other virus safeguards will be deployed. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis, File)
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VENICE, Italy (AP) — It starts with a boat ride in, and for the lucky few, ends with a kiss on the side of the trophy.

The Venice Film Festival is an early stop for many stars and filmmakers on the path to the Academy Awards. In normal years, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Scarlett Johansson, Lady Gaga and more actors would converge on Lido to the snap of camera shutters and cheers from fans.

This, of course, is not a normal year. The photographers will be fewer in numbers and the fans will be gone. Many top actors are staying away too, leaving the Venice festival as a smaller, more European cinema gathering.

Even that is an achievement.

Italy was among the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic — it has Europe's second-highest confirmed coronavirus death toll after Britain with over 35,400 deaths. The festival, running Sept. 2-12, will serve as a celebration of its re-opening and a sign that the film world, largely on pause since March, is coming back as well.

Despite virus precautions, some Venice mainstays will continue. Water taxis will deliver stars to press conferences and photo calls, where in years past actors like Ralph Fiennes have been compelled to dance and Johnny Depp gave giddy photographers a close-up shot.

The red carpet will be rolled out and the Lido will once again play host to flashy premieres. At the end of it all, some actors and filmmakers will earn trophies.

Whether they decide to kiss the cup remains to be seen.