Venice chief Alberto Barbera discusses this year’s “improved quality”, the ones that got away and likely late additions.

“This is a great year,” Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera told Screen yesterday evening about the 70th anniversary line-up.

“We had a record number of submissions, 10% more than last year. Last year, it was harder to find quite as many good films - the general quality has improved.”

This year’s line-up is indeed steeped in quality, with a host of established names and anticipated titles mixed in with new talent.

Barbera, now in his second year as artistic director, sees surprises in this year’s selection:

“I think there are some unexpected aspects. There is a lot of new talent and first-timers. The idea to have two documentaries [Errol Morris’ Unknown Known and GianFranco Rosi’s Sacro Gra] in the main competition is very unusual, for example. There is such a great overlap today between documentary and narrative films that those distinctions are becoming less easily definable. I’m sure both will be very well-received”.

53 of the 55 films announced yesterday are world premieres. Hayao Miyazaki’s Kaze Tachinu opened in Japan last weekend, while Paul Schrader’s The Canyons has already been released online in the US.

In addition to Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, which opens the festival, there are five anticipated US titles in main competition: David Gordon Green’s Joe, Kelly Reichardt’s Night Moves, Peter Landesman’s Parkland, Errol Morris’ The Unknown Known and James Franco’s Child of God.

“This is a good time for US films. Our selection reflects the positive time for US cinema,” said Barbera.

Landesman’s JFK drama was yesterday announced a few hours after the rest of the line-up. Barbera had always wanted the film but a dispute between the film’s sales company and Italian distributor meant it wasn’t initially included.

The UK is also well-represented in competition by the likes of Stephen Frears’ Philomena, co-pros Under the Skin, The Zero Theorem and Tracks, as well as Uberto Pasolini’s Still Life in the Horizons strand and Steven Knight’s Locke Out of Competition.

After a near shutout from last year’s main strands, the strength of this year’s UK crop surprised the executive:

“It could have been more. I was surprised and very impressed by the quality of the films I saw in London when I came in early July. It really is an impressive and unusually strong year for UK films. I saw 12 or 13 films [having already seen more before] and at least six or seven were very strong candidates.”

Despite trying times for the Italian industry, local cinema is very much in the spotlight:

“I’m happy with the quality of Italian films on show. We have a lot of problems in the Italian industry around the weakness of the industry and lack of funding but at the same time there is something happening - new talents are emerging with new subjects, which are unconnected to established cinema themes of politics and comedy.”

There are 21 Italian productions and co-productions in the selection, including a return to competition for veteran Venice favourite Gianni Amelio and the first feature from acclaimed theatre director Emma Dante, also in competition.

One trend Barbera noticed while making his choices were the number of films depicting the corrosive impact of family disintegration: “We saw quite a number of films that showed the explosion of the nuclear family, the absence of the father-figure, and the family becoming a metaphor for society and its violence.

“Some filmmakers continue to use the family as a metaphor for the illness in contemporary society. Alexandros Avranas’s competition entry Miss Violence is an example of this but there were others, too.”

An additional film or two will be announced in the line-up soon. Last year’s late addition was Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which had industry buzzing with anticipation before and during the festival.

“There are at least a couple of films we’re still working on, American films,” confirmed Barbera. “We should be able to make an announcement in early August.”

Among other titles to pique the executive’s interest, but which weren’t ready, according to Barbera, were Spike Lee’s Old Boy, Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, Spike Jonze’s Her, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, George Clooney’s The Monuments Men and Hark Tsui’s Detective Dee 2 [Young Detective Dee: Rise Of The Sea Dragon].

At one stage, Barbera was hopeful of securing Paul Greengrass’ anticipated thriller Captain Phillips, starring Tom Hanks in what many are calling a sure-fire Oscar-nominated performance, but Sony eventually declined.

Other buzzed-about titles not in the lineup include American Hustle, The Counselor, August Osage County, 12 Years A Slave, The Fifth Estate, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and Labor Day.

The festival will continue its day-and-date online theatre initiative for a handful of films in the Horizons selection and will also showcase the three films selected as part of its Biennale College scheme, which will continue this year.

The festival’s market has been extended by one day and market leader Pascale Diot has ramped the industry programme, with 40 producers invited to the festival, more opportunities for meetings with national film bodies, a showcase of African films and a new market app.

In tough economic times organisers have been negotiating with local hotels for reduced stay rates for industry as well as searching out new apartment options.

The festival’s budget remained at around €13.5m.