As Cannes closes, eyes turn to Venice

Venice competition a world premiere magnet

CANNES -- With activity on the Croisette drawing to a close, eyes already are turning toward Venice, where Saul Dibb's historical drama "The Duchess" and Ridley Scott's "Body of Lies" are expected to be among the big-name U.S. films screening out of competition on the Lido.

More than three months before the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading" opens the festival, few contracts have been signed. But with Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich and Tilda Swinton likely to appear on Venice's well-worn red carpet in conjunction with "Burn," Venice's paparazzi corps can look for Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes ("The Duchess") and Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe ("Body of Lies") to join them.

Venice's 22-film competition lineup has been made up entirely of world premieres the past two years, and the festival is said to be looking to make it three in a row. The event is set for Aug. 27-Sept. 6.

A year after the Italian media criticized the weak selection of the three Italian competition films, this year's selection should be stronger. Director Marco Bechis' contemporary drama "Birdwatchers" -- set in Brazil, written in Portuguese and backed by Italian producers -- is a likely selection. Spike Lee's Italian-American co-production "Miracle at St. Anna," a World War II film set in Tuscany, is another probable addition.

Industry players also say that Sandra Nettelbeck's "Helen" is a possible arrival, along with "The Women," a comedy from Diane English that stars Eva Mendes, Meg Ryan and Carrie Fisher. Baz Luhrmann's adventure drama "Australia," which stars Hugh Jackman and Nicole Kidman, also could appear if it can be finished on time.

Liza Foreman, Gregg Kilday, Rebecca Leffler and Scott Roxborough contributed to this report.