Spielberg lights up Venice

September 2, 2004

Stanley Tucci and Tom Hanks star in Steven Spielberg's The Terminal.

As the Venice Film Festival gets under way, organisers are hitching their stars to director Steven Spielberg - just the man, they hope, to inspire Hollywood moguls and prize-hunting artists alike during 11 days of glitz and film magic.

The opening night's gala screening is Spielberg's The Terminal, in which an eastern European traveller, played by Tom Hanks, has the lousy luck to get stuck in an airport - but the good fortune to find starlet Catherine Zeta-Jones on the premises.

Sure, the movie may have opened in the US more than two months ago, but it gave Venice a chance to parade the biggest crowd-pleaser in any festival's arsenal: American celebrities. Others expected to toddle along the red carpet include Robert De Niro, Angelina Jolie, Will Smith, John Travolta and Al Pacino.

Before his arrival, Spielberg eulogised the glorious lagoon city, saying it helps people rediscover their sense of wonder.

"The festival, the city and the islands around it are a place rich with charm where cinema finds a magical setting," he said in a column published in Corriere della Sera newspaper.

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The 61st festival, which ends on September 11, will screen 20 American films and is recognised as not only the world's oldest cinema competition but the start of the annual Oscar campaign.

Films in competition include Mike Leigh's Vera Drake, Mira Nair's Vanity Fair, starring Reese Witherspoon, Wim Wenders's Land of Plenty and Palindromes, directed by Todd Solondz.

The out-of-competition field will feature Spike Lee's She Hate Me, Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate, starring Denzel Washington, and Marc Forster's Finding Neverland.