A stellar American profile, a strong Asian flair and heavy security distinguish this year's Venice Film Festival, which was beginning Wednesday night with a Chinese martial arts extravaganza, Tsui Hark's "Seven Swords," showing out of competition.
Metal detectors were just about everywhere and bomb-searching police divers reportedly were working the waters off the Lido, the beach section of Venice where the festival was being held. Security concerns about a possible terrorist attack on the gathering of stars and their fans largely resulted in a slimmer version of this year's edition _ 56 films instead of the more than 70 in past years.
Always conscious of being outshone by its cinematic cousin, the Cannes Film Festival on the ritzier French Riviera, organizers boasted about an unprecedented nine world premieres of U.S. films on the lineup for the Venice Film Festival.
The film fest ends Sept. 10 with the awarding of the Golden Lion top prize.
Eagerly awaited and considered a top contender for the award is George Clooney's "Good Night, and Good Luck," which screens Thursday to the public.
No "Ocean's 11" caper this time, the black-and-white film that Clooney directed and stars in is a serious look at a painful time a half-century ago in America when powerful politicians relentlessly tried to root out the "reds" _ communist sympathizers.
Clooney, expected at the Lido on Thursday, plays a bold CBS television producer, Fred Friendly, and David Strathairn is broadcast pioneer Edward R. Murrow, who challenged the anti-communist crusade of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.
A Wednesday night screening for the media showed Clooney capturing Friendly's dry wit and almost paternal, reassuring figure with ease _ much matured from his earlier acting days as the sometimes-reckless doctor Ross on the U.S. television drama "E.R." As a director, he crisply commands a tightly hewn script, with the breathless rhythm of a newsroom palpable.
Strathairn delivers a searing performance as Murrow, wrestling with loyalty to his viewers, his country and himself.
Another U.S. actor on the other side of the camera here is John Turturro, in competition with "Romance and Cigarettes." The work is a musical love triangle featuring Susan Sarandon as the older woman, Kate Winslet and James Gandolfini, best known for his starring role in "The Sopranos."
Other films being touted in Venice include Ron Howard's "Cinderella Man," a boxing movie starring Russell Crowe and Renee Zellweger; and Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain," a story about a homosexual relationship between two 20th-century American cowboys.
Nineteen movies are competing for the Golden Lion at this year's festival, including Terry Gilliam's "The Brothers Grimm," starring Matt Damon; "Proof," directed by John Madden and starring Gwyneth Paltrow; and "Mary," by Abel Ferrara.
Closing the festival is Peter Ho-Sun Chan's "Perhaps Love," a Hong Kong production.
What's Venetian in all this?
The bold life of Giacomo Casanova _ the 18th-century Venetian adventurer, gambler, spy and seducer _ is the subject of Lasse Hallstrom's "Casanova." The film is not competing for honors.
Also being shown is a restored version of Federico Fellini's 1976 "Casanova," starring Donald Sutherland.
The festival also attracted demonstrators, a motley, noisy group of about 2,000 people dressed in beach shorts and bikinis who were held at bay by police officers in riot gear Wednesday evening. The demonstrators shouted slogans against imperialism, blew horns and lit fire crackers and claimed they represented "the cinema of the forbidden."
The motive for their protest, which was timed to coincide with the festival's official opening Wednesday evening, was not immediately clear, AP reported.