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18 films compete in leaner Venice festival

American directors dominated the competition lineup announced Thursday for this year's slimmed-down Venice Film Festival aimed at making the world's oldest movie festival easier to take in.

Brian De Palma and Terrence Malick are among 18 filmmakers competing for the coveted Golden Lion during the 69th edition of the festival, which runs from Aug. 29-Sept. 8. In keeping with recent tradition, a secret film, the 18th entry, will be announced at a later date.

Creative director Alberto Barbera returned this year to the festival he directed from 1998-2002 with a pledge to trim down the number of movies screened overall in order to allow festival-goers the possibility to watch "at least almost everything." More recent editions have seen as many as 24 films in competition, and well over 100 screened in all the side events.

"I think the tendency is a little bulimic, to focus on quantity doesn't serve anything," Barbera said in a phone interview with The Associated Press. "Having more films does not create a more important festival, rather it means lowering the quality of the selection. The festival has to assume the responsibility and the risk of making a real selection."

Barbera said his goal was to focus on both the achievements of known filmmakers, and seeking new talent.

"There shouldn't be any automatic choices of any kind. Just because there is a film ready by a big director does not mean it needs to go in the festival."

This year, a total of 60 films will be shown, 50 of which are world premieres. That's from a pool of 1,459 feature films and 1,772 short films previewed.

Barbera also is presiding over the filling of the enormous construction pit that has scarred the Lido festival grounds in recent years. It was supposed to be the site of a grand Palazzo del Cinema, but the grandiose project ran out of money and is being scaled back.

"The famous hole is being filled in during these days, and they are reasphalting the square. There will be a piazza in front of the Casino like before," he said.

Within the next three years, current facilities will be renovated and modernized, including the addition of a couple of projection rooms at the Casino. Barbera also is launching the festival's first market — acknowledging that he erred in thinking that a physical market place was not necessary in an Internet-driven era.

"I was completely wrong, because the festivals with the most development are those with a big market," he said, citing Cannes and Berlin.

Barbera's slimming touch means Venice has chosen a decisive profile to contrast itself with Toronto, which overlaps with Venice and will feature 350 films.

Barbera told a news conference in Rome that he agonized over which movies to let in, "losing some friends ... also gaining some others," along the way.

"I forgot how dramatic and difficult it was to choose and call directors that I admire and respect the most and say to them: 'Your film has not been chosen'," he said.

Both De Palma's sexy thriller "Passion" and Malick's romance "To The Wonder" star actress Rachel McAdams. It is De Palma's first feature film since "Redacted," which won Venice's award for best direction in 2007.

Ramin Bahrani will premier "At Any Price," a film set in the competitive world of modern agriculture and starring Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham, while fellow American Harmony Korine will show his comedy-romance "Spring Breakers," starring James Franco, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens.

Besides the four U.S. directors, three Italians will premier films, including Marco Bellocchio with "Bella Addormentata," inspired by the real-life case of a young Italian woman whose family waged a battle to remove her feeding tube after she was left comatose by an accident.

Otherwise, the broad field includes films from France, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the Philippines.

Many of the films in competition are co-productions, with France taking the lead with seven. De Palma's film does not get U.S. billing at all, but is rather a French-German production.

Golden Lion-winner Mira Nair opens the festival with "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," starring Riz Ahmed, Kat Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber. The film, which is being shown out of competition, is based on the best-selling book about a young Pakistani Wall Street analyst who gets swept into conflict in his homeland following Sept. 11. Nair won the Golden lion in 2001 for "Monsoon Wedding."

Barbera said the upcoming festival puts an emphasis on world cinema and also directors who are not household names. He also noted one-third of the films showing at the festival were directed by women — something that happened by chance, he said, since he usually doesn't look at the director's name ahead of time.

"There is a huge crisis in the world right now, the whole system. But there are also many new ferments, new countries that are working, new authors, new ways of making films at low cost but with complete professionalism," Barbera said.

"It is a moment of transition, a moment of crisis, but a moment of great opportunity."

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Paola Barisani contributed from Rome.

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