Venice 2012: Terrorist Drama 'Reluctant Fundamentalist,' Jonathan Demme Doc Kick Off 69th Fest

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Mira Nair's film, starring Riz Ahmed as a Pakistani man working on Wall street, opens the festival Aug. 29.

Artistic Director Alberto Barbera turned heads by declaring his support for striking Cinecitta workers protesting outside the Palazzo Grande.

VENICE – Polish-born actress and model Kasia Smutniak officially declared the 69th edition of the Venice Film Festival open Wednesday, ahead of the Sala Grande screening of Mira Nair’s terrorism drama The Reluctant Fundamentalist and Enzo Avitabile Music Life, a documentary from Jonathan Demme.

Meanwhile, Alberto Barbera, in his first edition as Venice artistic director after a ten-year hiatus, attracted headlines by declaring his support for striking workers from Cinecitta, the legedary movie studios down the road in Rome.

PHOTOS: International Week in Review 8/24: Ridley Scott Suspends Shoot After Brother's Death, Pussy Riot Sentencing and Prince Harry Controversy

The festival opened with great pomp and circumstance at the ceremony in a packed Sala Grande, Venice’s top venue. But it was the highly anticipated world premiere of The Reluctant Fundamentalist that was the evening’s main attraction.

The film, which stars Riz Ahmed as a young Pakistani man working on Wall Street who suddenly finds himself embroiled in a hostage crisis and torn between his finance industry ambitions and loyalty to his homeland. The film, which was inspired by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 is the Indian-born Nair’s third trip to the Venice festival since her romantic comedy Monsoon Wedding won Venice’s top prize 11 years ago, exactly four days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The nighttime screening of The Reluctant Fundamentalist was followed by te latenight premiere of Demme’s Enzo Avitabile Music Life, the latest in a long series of documentaries from the director of The Silence of the Lambs, which won him an Oscar for best director in 1991. The documentary tells the story of Enzo Avitable, the Naples-born singer-songwriter and jazz saxophone maestro.

Both films were part of the official selection, but screened out of competition.

Before the opening ceremony Barbera, who was named to a second stint as Venice’s artistic director in Dec., met with workers from Cinecitta camped outside the Palazzo del Cinema as part of their protest against plans to reform the 75-year-old Rome studios, the largest and oldest film studios in Europe.

STORY: Venice 2012: Inside This Year's Sober, Streamlined, Less Glitzy Festival

Around 200 Cinecitta workers there have been on strike since early July as part of the so-called “Cinecitta Okkupata” movement, organized to protest against plans to invest millions in order to develop a five-star hotel, day spa, and massive parking lot on the grounds of the studios. The workers have said they believe the plan would de-emphasize the movie-making aspect of the studios and would ultimately cost them their jobs. A handful of the strikers make the trip to Venice in order to call attention to their plight.

Cinecitta owners say the investments will help Cinecitta compete more effectively against cheaper rival studios in eastern Europe. 

If Barbera does indeed emerge as a supporter of the “Cinecitta Okkupata” movement he would be in good company: acclaimed film director Ettore Scola and Oscar-winner Bernardo Bertolucci have already circulated a petition in support of the striking workers.

The Venice Film Festival concludes Sept. 8.