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Venice film fest revisits artistic roots

The 69th Venice Film Festival is focusing on its artistic roots this year, courting celebrated directors and not flashy Hollywood blockbusters, The Associated Press reports.

Festival director Alberto Barbera trimmed the number of movies premiering at the world's oldest film festival, which opens today, to 18 in competition for the coveted Golden Lion, Venice's top prize. And the overall selection is just 60 films -- about half the offerings in previous years.

"I don't like this idea of making it bigger and bigger year after year," Barbera said Tuesday. "Toronto is getting bigger and bigger every year and the same thing for Cannes and Berlin and so on . . . It's not a proper way to promote a film."

The Venice lineup is heavy on auteur favorites like Terrence Malick, who premieres "To The Wonder" on Sunday and Paul Thomas Anderson with "The Master" on Saturday.

"Usually there are studio films here, even out of competition, to give it some glitz," said Maria Grazia Vairo, the head of acquisitions for Eagle Pictures, an Italian film distributor.

Venice, known as an outlet for world cinema, will feature selections from such places as Guatemala, Indonesia and Malaysia. This year, 20 of the 60 directors showing films are women -- something Barbera said happened by chance, not design.

Both trends are encapsulated in the selection of Haifa Al Mansour's "Wadjda," billed as the first feature ever shot in Saudi Arabia. The story focuses on a 10-year-old girl who longs for a bicycle despite her mother's fears that society will see it as a danger to the girl's virtue.

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