Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain is to be the opening night film of this year's Berlinale (5-15 Feb).

The decision allows Miramax to give the film a high profile position in the Oscar race - nominations are announced on Jan 27 and ballot papers mailed on Feb 4 - and to kick off its continental European release campaign in style. The film opens in Italy and Poland on Feb 13, Belgium and France on Feb 18, Austria and Germany on Feb 19 and Spain on Feb 20. Miramax similarly used the selection of Chicago as last year's Berlinale opener to good effect with the film going on to win six Academy Awards.

Cold Mountain had a narrow release in the UK on 26 Dec 2003 and by 4 Jan had grossed $3.2m. With the US, Australia and New Zealand also having opened, the film looks ineligible for a competition slot.

The festival organisers have previously announced five competition titles and are expected later this week to unveil further titles from the 26 picture official selection. Some 22 are expected to be in competition slots.

Other films with US connections expected to feature in Berlin include Richard Linklater's If Not Now, his sequel to Before Sunrise. Something's Gotta Give, may screen out of competition and stars Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton are expected to both attend the festival. Another English-language picture will be John Boorman's The Country Of My Skull, a post-Apartheid, South African drama starring Samuel L Jackson, Brendan Gleeson and Juliette Binoche.