The Hurt Locker, which has its world premiere at Venice followed by the North American premiere in Toronto, is Kathryn Bigelow's first feature in six years and yet the director remains as relevant and absorbing as ever.

Despite a bombardment of contemporary war films over the past year or so, the California-born film-maker's account of a US bomb-disposal unit in Iraq is one of the most mesmerising military stories to reach the screen in years.

It is a typically visceral, intense effort from the director of Strange Days, Point Break and K-19: The Widowmaker. The film is distinguished as much by the three lead performances from Jeremy Renner - memorable as the gung-ho unit leader - Anthony Mackie and Brian Geraghty, as it is by a clear refusal on the part of Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to contextualise or explain the war on terror.

'I simplify,' Bigelow says several weeks before Venice. 'This really shares the chaotic nature of the messiness and yet provides a very personal story in the heat of battle.' Financed by and marking the producing debut of Nicolas Chartier's Los Angeles-based sales and financing outfit Voltage Pictures, The Hurt Locker sprung from the mind of Boal, who experienced warfare first-hand as an embedded reporter with a bomb-disposal unit in 2004.

After Boal wrote a piece for Playboy magazine about his time in the urban battlefield, he contacted Bigelow, with whom he had previously collaborated. They spent a year crafting a screenplay.

'The film tries to explore the psychology of a volunteer army,' Bigelow says. 'If you think for a minute what it was like to be going through a day in that world, you can only be frightened for so long and you have to move through it and make peace with everything.'

Principal photography took place over 44 days in Jordan in summer 2007. The director showers the Jordanian people, crew and facilities with praise, adding: 'If you're going to shoot a movie about this conflict, you want to get as close to the action as possible. Our hope was to present as accurate and authentic a view of the war as possible and really make it experiential. I wanted to create an intense cinematic experience with strong characters.

'The fact these are bomb techs with possibly the most dangerous job in the world seemed like the perfect fit.'

Voltage and Grosvenor Park Media present the film and Voltage, which produced alongside First Light and Kingsgate Films, began international pre-sales more than a year ago. CAA is representing North American rights.