The Venice Biennale has cast aside the political turmoil which had whipped up on the Lido shores a couple of weeks ago, to confirm Marco Mueller's four-year contract to head the Venice Film Festival (Sept 1-11,2004) while also approving his new vision for the world's oldest festival.

As such, the Biennale officially announced that the festival will revert back to the single Golden Lion competition, which will this year feature 20 titles, while the entire festival will screen a total of 60 films.

"The competition will include the best mainstream commercial-artistic films on offer, but won't forget films from young directors and movies from around the world," Mueller said after the Biennale board meeting.

Earlier this month, a Biennale member had questioned Mueller's potential conflict of interest as a producer who has a four-year output deal with Rai Cinema.

Mueller has now officially put on hold his activities as a producer for the duration of his contract with the Biennale, retaining a minority 18% stake in Downtown Pictures, and has also frozen his four-year output deal with Rai Cinema.

In a statement released by the Biennale, Mueller said: "I hope that the festival will be a streamlined event that will be created in a climate of constant dialogue on an industry and cultural level, both in Italy and abroad. The Mostra is about selecting films, rather than programming. It cannot hope to represent everything that is on offer," he explained, adding: "It is always a question of hierarchy and priorities: some films are better than others."

In addition to the main competition, three or four major films will premiere out of competition. These will include Stephen Spielberg's The Terminal with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Sidebars include Venezia Orizzonti (Venice Horizons) which will feature 16 or 17 films that represent new trends in international cinema.

Venezia Mezzanotte (Midnight Venice) will screen 10 visually spectacular films, with the intention of attracting a young audience to the festival, while Venezia Digitale will feature 10 digitally-shot features.

Finally, the short film sidebar Venezia Corto/Cortissimo will have four screenings that will each last 100 minutes.

Venice will hand out seven main prizes: the Golden Lion for best film, the Silver Lion Grand Jury prize, a Silver Lion for best director, the Coppa Volpi for best actor and actress, a best technical "Osella" award, and the Marcello Mastroianni prize for best young actor or actress.

As usual, the festival will also hand out the Luigi De Laurentiis prize for best first film, which will see the winning director and producer obtain Euros 100,000 from Filmauro, the Rome production and distribution outfit headed by Aurelio De Laurentiis.

Meanwhile, the Biennale announced the names of Mueller's foreign correspondents, who will help him select the festival's line-up. They are: Eleonora Granata Jenkinson (USA, Canada), Emanuela Martini (UK, Ireland), Rodrigo Diaz (Central and South America), Marie-Pierre Duhamel (France), Fabio Fumagalli (Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Portugal) Giulia Grassilli and Alberto Iannuzzi (Africa and the Arab world), Sergio Grmek Germani (Balkans, Greece), Elena Pollacchi (Southern and Eastern Asia), Alena Shumakova (Russia, Baltic States, Ukraine, Central Asia), Alessandra Thiele (Germany and Austria), Irena Taskovski (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary), and Tomita Mikiko (Japan).