Venice opens with star sightings

Venice opens with star sightings

VENICE - Agence France-Presse
Venice opens with star sightings

Hollywood heavyweights, famous auteurs and up-and-coming starlets have arrived in water taxis on the Lido island for the opening ceremony of the 69th Venice Film Festival. ABACA press photos

The Venice Film Festival kicked off a line-up dominated by art-house films with a thriller by Mira Nair about a Pakistani man torn between East and West after the Sept. 11 attacks.

 Hollywood heavyweights, famous auteurs and up-and-coming starlets arrived in water taxis on the famous Lido island, sashaying along the red carpet for the opening ceremony of the world’s oldest international film festival on Aug. 29.

 “Everybody’s looking forward to getting down to work. There is a bunch of new work and inspiring films over the next few days,” said U.S. producer and director Michael Mann, who is heading up the jury this year, adding that he would particularly look at “new methods of story-telling.”

French model and actress Laetitia Casta, a member of the jury who wore a black lace dress that left little to the imagination, said, “I prefer this place because I leave my ego behind to look at the work of others.

Joining Casta on the red carpet were Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts and the cast of Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which stars British actor Riz Ahmed as Changez, a soulful Pakistani who rejects fundamentalism in all its forms, as well as Liev Schreiber, Martin Donovan, Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Meesha Shafi and Turkish actor Haluk Bilginer.

Nair’s clash of civilizations tale is set in New York, Lahore and Istanbul before and after Sept. 11 and drew gasps from the audience as it portrays the discrimination suffered in America by Changez following the attacks.

“We all know there’s been an enormous schism, a wall between East and West in the past decade. I wanted to bring some sense of bridge-making, some sense of healing that goes beyond stereotype,” Nair said at a press conference.

“I believe I’ve been put on this earth to tell stories of people like me who live between worlds,” she said, adding that she had drawn inspiration from her own experience of changing attitudes in the aftermath of Sept. 11.Among the most keenly awaited premieres are Terrence Malick’s “To the Wonder,” a complex love story starring Ben Affleck, and Robert Redford’s “The Company You Keep” with himself as a former Weather Underground militant.

18 films to compete for the Golden Lion

One of the 18 films vying for the Golden Lion prize will be Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” a movie that is bound to raise controversy as it stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a character resembling Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Music is also on the menu with Spike Lee’s hotly anticipated “Bad 25” documentary about pop icon Michael Jackson, as well as Jonathan Demme of “The Silence of the Lambs” fame with his homage to Neapolitan crooner Enzo Avitabile. This year’s festival, which will run until Sept. 8, will project a total of 52 films including 21 by female directors in contrast with the Cannes festival this year, which featured no female directors for films in competition.

Among the newcomers will be Haifaa al-Mansour from Saudi Arabia, where cinemas are banned and women face sweeping discrimination, with her film “Wadjda” about a little girl desperate for a bicycle.