Page last updated at 21:57 GMT, Wednesday, 2 September 2009 22:57 UK

Epic Sicilian film opens Venice

By Keily Oakes
BBC News, Venice


Guiseppe Tornatore and Ennio Morricone talk about Baaria (footage courtesy of Medusa)

The Venice Film Festival has begun, with Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee declaring it the "greatest film festival in the world".

The Taiwanese film-maker is heading this year's festival panel, which will choose the winner of the Golden Lion.

Organisers selected an Italian film for the opening night, Guiseppe Tornatore's Sicilian-based family epic Baaria.

Previous years have seen big Hollywood movies opening the celebrations, with major US stars stealing the show.

Clooney returns

Ang Lee won the Golden Lion himself in 2005 for Brokeback Mountain, a film that went on to enjoy commercial success as well as winning Lee a best director Oscar.

But he said he had mixed feelings about film competitions.

"I do not believe we can do justice to film in competition. Each movie has its own merit," he said.

But he added: "At the same time I have witnessed competition as a most exciting thing in film culture."

US actress Eva Mendes
US actress Eva Mendes arrives for the opening ceremony

Lee acknowledged the good that awards can achieve, citing the success of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai in Venice in 1954, when it won the Silver Lion, as a "great inspiration for Asian film-makers".

But he added: "I have seen some films which I thought should have won but did not and sometimes I have seen films that did win that should not have."

Among the films in competition for the 66th festival this year are John Hillcoat's The Road, starring Charlize Theron and Viggo Mortensen; Werner Hertzog's remake of The Bad Lieutenant, with Nicholas Cage taking the role originally played by Harvey Keitel; and French offering White Material, with Isabel Huppert.

American documentary film-maker Michael Moore is also returning to the festival circuit.

Having previously tackled gun crime and health care, this time Moore has turned his camera on the global economic crisis in Capitalism: A Love Story.

There are also a number of high-profile films appearing out-of-competition, with George Clooney once again heading back to Venice to promote the quirky The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Steven Soderbergh, director of Traffic and Ocean's Eleven, is screening The Informant!, a film about whistle-blowing in corporate America, while American film-maker Abel Ferrara is showing Napoli, Napoli, Napoli.

During the festival, the creative team at Pixar will be handed a lifetime achievement honour for the great strides it has made in popular animation. The 3D version of Toy Story will also get its first public outing.

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