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Thursday, 29 August, 2002, 04:02 GMT 05:02 UK
Venice Film Festival opens
Selma Hayek
Selma Hayek made her name with 1993's Mi Vida Loca
The Venice Film Festival opens on Thursday with a screening of Frida, a film about surrealist Mexican artist Frida Kahlo starring Selma Hayek and Antonio Banderas.

The 59th festival, which runs until 8 September, is one of the most important events in the film world's calendar.

Three UK directors are in contention for the festival's Golden Lion award - Stephen Frears with Dirty Pretty Things, Peter Mullan with The Magdalene Sisters and Sam Mendes with Road to Perdition, which stars Tom Hanks as a hitman in Depression-era America

Sophia Loren
Sophia Loren's new film is directed by her son
But Stephen Daldry's The Hours, starring Nicole Kidman as author Virginia Woolf, was pulled out of the festival after delays in post-production.

Opening feature Frida is directed by Broadway veteran Julie Taymor, and co-stars Edward Norton, Ashley Judd, Geoffrey Rush and Antonio Banderas as Kahlo's husband Diego Rivera.

Other Golden Lion entrants include films from South Korea, Italy, Russia and Japan.

Tom Hanks, Julianne Moore and Salma Hayek are all expected to attend the festival - along with Sophia Loren, making her first visit to the Venice Film Festival in 20 years.

'Miracle'

Loren is starring in Between Strangers, directed by her son Eduardo Ponti, which will be screened during the fortnight.

"It's a miracle that we've been able to put together an interesting, rich and varied programme like this in little more than four months," said festival director Moritz De Hadeln, who was previously in charge of the Berlin Film Festival.

About 143 films will be screened at the festival, including the 21 competing for the Golden Lion and a further 17 in contention for the new San Marco award in the festival's Countercurrent section.

These include Steven Soderbergh's latest, Full Frontal, a low-budget, unofficial sequel to Sex, Lies and Videotape.

Julia Roberts stars in the film, which is already attracting good word-of-mouth reviews.

Other highlights will include a gala dinner to honour legendary Italian film-maker Michaelangelo Antonioni on 5 September.

This year's jury will be headed by Chinese actress Gong Li, who won the Best Actress award at Venice in 1992 for The Story Of Qiu Ju.

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The BBC's Andre Vornic
"Complained of a left wing bias in the nations Italy's cultural life"

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