Venice is aiming widefor its 65th edition,with artistic director Marco Mueller following up 2007's heavily English-language programme with a more geographically diverse, less star-drivenline-up of films from 18 countries. Notably lighter onUS features (and with none solely from the UK), this year's Lido line-up features two Japanese animation masters and four Italian features in the competition section alone.

For the full line-up, click here.

'We are a map of the cinema that knows how to express itself with strength,' said Mueller at a press conference Tuesday.

The line-up says a lot about Mueller's ability to dig deep, particularly in a year where Hollywood industry strikes have limited US offerings. For example, US director Darren Aronofsky will be presenting what Mueller calls a 'wet premiere' as he races to get his film The Wrestler straight from the print lab to Venice.

While the US has five films in competition (compared to six US films in last year's edition) the slimmed down line up (55 features over all to last year's 57) sees a drop inthe English-language contingent.

No closing film has yet been announced, but Venice will open (as previously announced) with Joel and Ethan Coen's dark spy comedy Burn After Reading, out of competition. The Coen Brothers were last on the Lido with Intolerable Cruelty, also out of competition in 2002.

The film reunites Lido regulars George Clooney and Tilda Swinton (both at Venice in competition with Michael Clayton last year) and secures ample star power to rev up the Lido event's kick off with Brad Pitt, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand all expected for opening night.

Fewer US stars will be zipping to the Lido on vaporetti this year, but the festival will remain buoyant with heavy hitters like Charlize Theron and Kim Basinger, who star in Babel writer Guillermo Arriaga's directorial debut The Burning Plain about parent-child relations on the mend.

Jonathan Demme's rehab-marriage drama staring Anne Hathaway and Debra Winger is also in competing this year while US director Kathryn Bigelow's Iraq-set thriller The Hurt Locker starring Ralph Fiennes is decidedly more low key.

Aronofsky's competition entry The Wrestler stars Mickey Rourke, Marisa Tomei and Evan Rachel Wood. Aronofsky was last in competition in 2006 with The Fountain, which didn't wow the critics. The US competition selection is rounded out with Iranian director Amir Naderi's Vegas: Based on a True Story with lesser-known actors Mark Greenfield, Nancy La Scala and Zach Thomas.

As for Mueller's selections, his line up of 21 competition titles (of which 19 are world premieres) showcases a balance of known Lido quantities and first-time competitors in a year that happens to be a pivotal one for himas he starts the first year of his second four-year term - the last time an artistic director was on board for five years was in 1992 when late director Gillo Pontecorvo held the reins to Italy's most important cinema event (his son, Marco Pontecorvo, has Pa-ra-da in the Horizons sidebar).

So while last year's line up - across all sections - was an homage to English-language cinema, this year the Italian flag flies high over the Lido after a strong year at Cannes, withfour local titles making the competition cut and Italian fare out in force with20 films across all sections.

Reportedly Mueller had to make an official request to bend the rules that limit Italian competition pictures to three. Italian competitors include Il seme della discordia, a comedy by Pappi Corsicato, which literally translates to Seeds of Discord, featuring the glamorous duo Alessandro Gassman and Caterina Murino in a comic look at couples and fertility issues. Ferzan Ozpetek, a jury member at Venice last year finds himself in competition with Un giorno perfetto via Rai Cinema and produced by Domenico Procacci.

Critical eyes are already tipped to a strong film from Marco Bechis with an Amazon set 'quest for identity-themed film' entitled Birdwatchers, also from Rai. The film stars hot local actor Claudia Santamaria (Casino Royale). Bechis was last in Venice in 2001 with Hijos. Lastly, Pupi Avati's Il papa di Giovanna from Medusa features a fine cast led by Silvio Orlando and Alba Rohrwacher in a film about an artist who gives his all to provide his daughter with a promising future when her life takes tragic turns.

In his last two editions Mueller had secured world premieres for all films in competition. This year he said he made 'an exception,' for Japanese masters Hayao Miyazaki and Oshii Mamoru who will animate the competition with their newest works.

Mueller explained 'they are them most extraordinary animators - and their films needed a summer release in Japan.' In exchange, Miyazaki (a career Golden Lion winner in 2005) will make a rare festival appearance at Venice on Sept 3, to present Ponyo on the Cliff, a film about a young boy's relationship with his goldfish.

Mamoru's first foray in competition is with The Sky Crawlers, also in its international premiere.

Japan is strong across the line up -- Lido regular Takeshi Kitano competes with Achilles and the Tortoise, in which he also stars as an artist who doesn't give up on his craft, despite a lack of talent.

France shows strength with Barbet Schroeder's Japan-set thriller Inju, la Bete dans l'Ombre and L'autre by Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic as well as Werner Schroeter's Nuit de chien about a group of people fleeing the tyranny of dictatorship.

Germany is represented by first time Venice contender Christian Petzold's film Jerichow, a drama about two people (Benno Furmann and Petzold's acclaimed Yella star Nina Hoss) who fall in love and think they can only have a future together if they murder the woman's husband.

Mueller was happy to announce the return of African cinema to competition with two films: director Haile Gerima brings Teza (Ethiopia is the lead producer on the project, followed by Germany and France) as well as a picture from Algerian director Tariq Teguia with the film Inland (Gabbla) (France co-produces).

Turkey and Russia are also on the competition roster this year with Sut from Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu and Paper Soldier (Bumaznyj Soldat) from Aleksey German Jr.

Notably, the 65th edition doesn't include a single UK film in the entire festival roster (other than UK co-production Vinyan out of competition), and Spain is shut out from the main competition. And, China - while dominant in the past three editions directly and indirectly (Jia Zangke won the Golden Lion in 2006) is only has a quarter co-production, Plastic City.

Out of competition several art-house darlings will be lighting up the official screenings. Namely: Abbas Kiarostami's Shirin starring Juliette Binoche, Jia Zhangke's short Cry MeA River and Claire Denis' 35 Rhums. One-hundred-year-old auteur Manoel de Oliveira will grace Venice with a seven-minute short Do Visivel ao Invisivel.

Other territories showing force in the Horizons section include the Philippines, but as Mueller pointed out Lav Diaz's 450-minute feature Melancholia will be programmed as closing film to that section, due to its length.

Also in the Horizons section, Brazil is represented by Julio Bressane and Rosa Dias with A Erva do Rato, and Mexico appears with Voy a explotar from director Gerardo Naranjo.

Horizons will announce two surprise films, Mueller said he was unable to disclose them for 'censuring' reasons, which hints that the titles will hail from China.

Venice's selection committees sorted through 3,689 titles (including 2,429 features) from 72 countries.

Venice's Career Lion will be given to auteur Ermanno Olmi, who previously won the Golden Lion in 1998 for The Legend of the Holy Drinker (La leggenda del santo bevitore) after his 1987 Silver Lion win for Lunga vita alla signora. The honours will be presented at a ceremony on Sept 4 by performer Adriano Celentano whose 1975 classic film Yuppi Du will be shown in a newly restored version.

Last year's critical darling, Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche (The Secret of the Grain) will preside over the jury for the Lion of the Future jury for first-time filmmakers, while female director Chantal Akerman will preside over the Venice Horizons jury.

Golden Lion winning director and Venice regular Wim Wenders will preside over the competition jury.

Paolo Baratta, back at the helm of the Biennale for a second stint, says the 65th edition will host a 'ground breaking' ceremony to inaugurate the new Palazzo del Cinema on Aug 28.

The Venice Film Festival will run Aug 27-Sept 6.