American vein at upcoming Venice fest

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CANNES -- This year's Venice Film Festival will have an American accent, with the opening film likely to be a Hollywood production and around 15 North American films officially screening In Competition and Out, artistic director Marco Mueller said Tuesday.

The festival also announced that two-time Golden Lion-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou will head the jury for the Golden Lion prize at the 64th edition of the festival. The 55-year-old director won Venice's most prestigious prize in 1992 for "Qiu Ju da Guan Si" (The Story of Qiu Ju) and again seven years later with "Yi ge dou bu Neng Shao" (Not One Less).

American producer Bill Mechanic will head the jury that awards the Luigi De Laurentiis Prize for a First Film, and director Gregg Araki will head the jury for the Horizons section for new filmmaking trends, Venice organizers said.

The festival also announced that it would collaborate with October's RomaCinemaFest for its special retrospective on so-called Spaghetti Westerns. Mueller said that so many films had been rediscovered and refurbished during Venice's planning of its sidebar on the subject that it offered several titles to the Rome festival.

The full, official lineup for what may be Mueller's last year as head of the storied Venice festival will not be released until July 26. But indications are already strong that fans of English-language films will have plenty to choose from at the Aug. 29-Sept. 8 event.

Mueller said that around a third of the overall lineup has been decided on, and that, so far, more North American films than usual are on the festival's radar screen. He said the coveted spot for the festival's opening film is likely to come from the U.S., but that it won't be a blockbuster.

"I think we'd rather gamble on an imaginative film from a talented new director," Mueller said.

Among the specific titles being mentioned as likely to show up on Venice's big screens is "Planet Terror" from Robert Rodriguez, the zombie film that was originally made as part of "Grindhouse" but that will be released as a stand-alone movie internationally.

"Venice is crazy for that movie," Harvey Weinstein said at a press conference Tuesday when asked about the film.

Other likely candidates include "These Times" from last year's Palme d'Or winner Ken Loach and Mike Leigh's untitled '07 project.

Among non-English language projects that could come to the festival are Mimmo Calopresti's "L'Abbuffata," though Calopresti and the film's producers from Instituto Luce are on record as saying they would prefer to have the film screen at the RomaCinemaFest if it's accepted at both festivals.

One longshot is the still-unfinished "Ciqing Shidai" (The Age of Tattoo) from last year's Golden Lion winner Jia Zhangke. Jia, who won the 2006 prize for "Sanxia Haoren" (Still Life), was at the briefing with Mueller and other Venice officials. Afterward Mueller sat back in his chair and asked, "Who knows if we will have another film from Jia in competition this year?"
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