Writer's Strike Leads to Fewer U.S. Films at Venice Film Festival

Italian films will dominate the official program of the 65th Venice Film Festival this year — and fewer Hollywood movies will be shown due to the impact of the writers' strike.

In all, 21 films will compete for the coveted Golden Lion, according to the program announced Tuesday. Those include Jonathan Demme's "Rachel Getting Married" starring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger, and Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq war drama "Hurt Locker" with Ralph Fiennes.

Guillermo Arriaga, who wrote "21 Grams," will make his debut as a director with "The Burning Plain," starring Kim Bassinger and Charlize Theron as a mother and daughter trying to bond. Arriaga is the only first-time director with a film in competition.

The competition features five Hollywood productions, four from Italy and three each from France and Japan.

All but two of the 21 films in competition will be world premiers; organizers made an exception for two Japanese animated films that opened at home for the busy summer season.

Wim Wenders will head the jury that awards the coveted Golden Lion on Sept. 6.

The festival has come under criticism in recent years for being too Hollywood heavy, but this year it's heavily weighted toward host Italy. Festival director Marco Mueller said the selections this year were based on the quality of the films and not on geography.

While 18 full-length Italian features are being shown, only 10 movies will come from the United States — including the Coen brothers dark spy-comedy "Burn After Reading," which opens the festival Aug. 27.

The reduced number of American films is due mainly to the impact of last fall's writers' strike, Mueller said.

"Fewer were willing to risk making a world premiere of a movie that would only show up in the theaters eight or nine months later," Mueller told a news conference.

It may be too early to declare another golden age of Italian cinema — which has never quite risen to the dolce vita of Rome's Cinecitta of the 1950s and 1960s — but Italian films are enjoying a renaissance.

At Cannes, Italian films won the second-place grand prize and third-place jury prize. Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah," a study of the criminal underworld in Naples, took the grand prize, while Paolo Sorrentino's "Il Divo," a lively portrait of former Premier Giulio Andreotti, won the jury award.

Italian films in competition at Venice include Italian-Turkish director Ferzan Ozpetek's "Un Giorno Perfetto," featuring the events of one day on a group of people, and Pupi Avati with "Il Papa' di Giovanna," the story of a father dealing with his daughter's horrible crime.

Mueller earlier this year won a second four-year run as festival director, a first in the Venice festival's recent history. Mueller has worked to raise the profile of the Venice festival, which competes for the limelight with Toronto, Cannes and most recently Rome.

Festival President Davide Croff also announced Tuesday that ground will be broken Aug. 28 on a new theater on the Venice Lido that will be ready in 2011.