The 1960’s begin with the continuing development and expansion of the festival, in accordance with the artistic plan set in motion after the war.
The 1960 edition will be remembered as the most contested review in the history of the festival, for not awarding the Golden Lion to an extraordinary film by Luchino Visconti, Rocco e i suoi fratelli (Rocco and His Brothers), in favor of the film by French director Andre Cayatte Le Passage du Rhin (The Crossing of the Rhine). The public in attendance whistles during the entire presentation ceremony and screening of the winning film. It was the second great disappointment of the director, who was mocked once before in 1954 when the festival had presented Senso.
At the beginning of the decade, the festival promotes profound works of a new film renaissance. Numerous sections are created in order to diversify screenings and to widen the field of action. Important films of the English Free Cinema are introduced, until then not very well-known, like Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1961) by Karel Reisz, A Taste of Honey (1962) by Tony Richardson, or Billy Liar (1963) by John Schlesinger, as well as films of the French Nouvelle Vague, presented thanks to Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais.
Some young Italian directors are screened for the first time before an eager public: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Bernardo Bertolucci, Paolo and brother Vittorio Taviani, Vittorio De Seta, Valerio Zurlini, Marco Ferreri, Florestano Vancini, Marco Bellocchio, Giuliano Montaldo, Tinto Brass, while others reveal just how far they have progressed since their debuts in the 1950’s, directors of the caliber of Francesco Rosi, Ermanno Olmi and Gillo Pontecorvo.
After the controversies of 1960, consecutive awards are credible and there is no whistling: the following year the winner is L’Année dernière à Marienbad (Last Year at Marienbad) by Alain Resnais, while in 1962 the prize is awarded ex aequo (equally) to Valerio Zurlini and Andrej Tarkovskij, respectively with Cronaca familiare (Family Diary) and Ivanovo detstvo (My Name Is Ivan).
In 1963 the winds of change blow strongly during "professor" Luigi Chiarini’s directorship of the festival, an era lasting until 1968. During the years of his presidency, Chiarini aspires to renew the spirit and the structures of the festival, pushing for a total reorganization of the entire system. For six years, the festival follows a consistent path, according to the rigid criteria put in place for the selection of works in competition, and takes a firm stand against the political pressures and interference of more and more demanding movie studios, preferring the artistic quality of films to the growing commercialization of the film industry.
A key point of Chiarini’s management is the continuous and useful comparison of various generations and schools of directors. Established and Emerging are alternated on the screens of the festival, masters and students: Jean-Luc Godard, Carl Theodor Dreyer, Ingmar Bergman, Arthur Penn, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Robert Bresson, Akira Kurosawa, Roman Polanski, François Truffaut, Roberto Rossellini, Joseph Losey, Milo? Forman, as well as Carmelo Bene, John Cassavetes, Alain Resnais, Luis Buñuel, winner in 1967 of the Golden Lion with Belle de jour, a film decidedly less avant-garde than those from the period of his collaboration with Salvador Dalì.
Italian film is the true industry hallmark during this period of the festival, thanks to the spotlight on new emerging stars, like Claudia Cardinale, Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti, but above all for the exceptional series of four consecutive victories of the prestigious top prize: 1963, Le mani sulla città (Hands Over the City) by Francesco Rosi; 1964, Il deserto rosso (Red Desert) by Michelangelo Antonioni; 1965; Vaghe stelle dell’Orsa (Sandra of a Thousand Delights), the much awaited victory of Luchino Visconti; finally, in 1966, La battaglia di Algeri (The Battle of Algiers) by Gillo Pontecorvo.
The social and political unrest of 1968 also have strong repercussions on the Venice Biennial due to a legislative act still in place from the fascist age. Consequently, this affects the festival. The staff of the review, looking to break with traditional lines of thought during the age, endures heavy and continuous protests. From 1969 to 1979 there is still a review, but no prizes are awarded and it is returned to the non-competitiveness of the first edition. In 1973, 1977 and 1978, the festival is not even held. The Golden Lion does not make its return until 1980 when, paradoxically, there is a pair of statuettes, one for each of the ex aequo winners of Louis Malle and John Cassavetes.