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17 films at annual Venice Film Festival are directorial debuts

July 31, 2009|associated press

ROME — The world economic crisis hasn't dulled the glitz of the 66th edition of the Venice Film Festival, which hosts a lineup rich with Hollywood heavyweights.

The 23 films vying for the Golden Lion at this year's festival, all world premieres, include Michael Moore's documentary on the financial crisis, called "Capitalism: A Love Story," and former Gucci designer Tom Ford's directorial debut, "A Single Man," starring Colin Firth and Julianne Moore.

The program demonstrates "the state of cinema in this precise moment, crisis included," said festival director Marco Mueller, who is starting his second five-year run heading the festival, which runs Sept. 2-12.

Mueller said Thursday that the effect of the global recession was not evident in the high number of U.S. entries, 17 in all, six of those in competition. That is up from last year's 10 Hollywood offerings, curtailed by the writers strike.

"It seems at this point, the writers strike, the economic and financial difficulties would have stopped the most unique and most stimulating aspects of American cinema, but instead, we have a wider and more varied offering where we have some of the most important names," Mueller said, citing Steven Soderbergh as well as Ford's transformation from fashionista to director.

Soderbergh, director of "Ocean's Eleven" and its two sequels, is showing "The Informant" out of competition. The dark comedy thriller stars Matt Damon as a high-ranking whistle-blower at a Fortune 500 company, and is based on the 2000 book by journalist Kurt Eichenwald.

Werner Herzog will be looking for a Golden Lion with his cop drama "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans." Starring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes and Val Kilmer, the film is a nod to Abel Ferrara's 1992 cult crime drama "Bad Lieutenant."

Charlize Theron stars in John Hillcoat's adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's grim post-apocalyptic novel "The Road," about a father and son's journey for survival. The movie also stars Viggo Mortensen and Robert Duvall.

Rounding out the U.S. competition entries are horror director George A. Romero's "Survival of the Dead" and Todd Solondz's "Life During Wartime," a follow-up to his 1998 film "Happiness.'

The competition also includes films from such rarely represented countries as Sri Lanka, Israel and Egypt, which is represented by first-time director Ahmed Maher's film "The Traveler," starring legendary actor Omar Sharif.

Italy has four films in competition, including festival opener "Baaria," by Oscar-winner Giuseppe Tornatore ("Cinema Paradiso"). France's four entries for the top prize include Claire Denis' "White Material."

Asia is well represented with five Chinese films, one from Taiwan, one from Hong Kong and two from Japan.

Mueller said the festival includes the most first- and second-time directors in festival memory, a total of 17 directorial debuts and nine second films, in an overall lineup of 75 films, all but four world premieres, from 25 countries, including entries out of competition.

Out of competition, Wes Anderson presents "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," an animated Roald Dahl adaptation whose cast includes George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Meryl Streep.

The jury will be led by Ang Lee, who twice won the prestigious Golden Lion -- in 2007 for "Lust, Caution," and in 2005 for "Brokeback Mountain," for which he also won an Oscar for directing.

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