Full list of Golden Lion contenders
They include Wim Wenders' Land of Plenty - a critical look at post-11 September America - and The Hamburg Cell, a movie about the hijackers involved in the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon.
Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks will kick off the festival with The Terminal - a romantic comedy with Catherine Zeta Jones about a traveller stranded by political upheaval in his own country for nine months in a New York airport.
Later, Nicole Kidman will attend the screening of her reincarnation picture, Birth, while
Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie and Will Smith will be in town to promote their voice-overs in the animated Shark Tale.
Marco Muller, the festival's new director, said: "Every day will have at least a couple of 'glamour' moments.
"I want this to be an audience's festival, with cheering as though it were a stadium."
Arthouse fans and film critics are not likely to be disappointed either, with 170 films and shorts from 28 countries showing in competitions and special events.
A total of 21 films will vie for the coveted Golden Lion prize in the main competition, including Birth by Jonathan Glazer, starring Kidman as a woman convinced that a 10-year-old boy is her dead husband reincarnated.
Other contenders include Mar Adentro, a true story about a paralyzed Spaniard's
attempts to end his life, from The Others director Alejandro Amenabar and Mira Nair's adaptation of Thackeray's 19th-century novel Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon.
The Golden Lion jury is headed by British director John Boorman and includes actresses Scarlett Johansson and Helen Mirren.
The awards will be handed out on 11 September at a ceremony hosted by Sophia Loren.
Portuguese film veteran Manoel de Oliveira, who will present his O quinto imperio in the special events section, will receive a special Golden Lion for lifetime achievement.
He will also be joined by US producer/director Stanley Donen, who directed Singin' in the Rain in 1952.
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Golden Lion 2004 contenders:
Mar Adentro (Alejandro Amenabar)
Vanity Fair (Mira Nair)
Vera Drake (Mike Leigh)
Promised Land (Amos Gitai)
Palindromes (Todd Solondz)
Land of Plenty (Wim Wenders)
L'Intrus (Claire Denis)
Le Chiavi di Casa (Gianni Amelio)
Howl's Moving Castle (Hayo Miyazaki)
Birth (Jonathan Glazer)
Lavorare con lentezza (Guido Chiesa)
Café Lumière (Hsiao-hsien Hou)
Haryu insaeng (Kwon-taek Im)
Stray Dogs (Marziyeh Meshkini)
5×2 (Cinq fois deux) (FrançoisOzon)
Delivery (Nikos Panayotopoulos)
Ovunque sei (Michele Placido)
Udalionnyj dostup (Svetlana Proskurina)
Tout un hiver sans feu (Greg Zglinski)
Shijie (Zhangke Jia)
Rois et reine (Arnaud Desplechin)