Judging by the openingweekend, the Shanghai International Film Festival (June 17-25) is finallystarting to take advantage of its position as mainland China's leading film festival and industry platform.

Past editions have struggledto attract stars or premieres - mostly because of restrictions and otherproblems in the Chinese movie market - but the US studios and agencies seem to have thrown their weightbehind this year's event.

Several Hollywood stars turned up the opening ceremony on Saturday night, including HughJackman, Andie MacDowell and Sigourney Weaver, while Natasha Richardson andhusband Liam Neeson were on hand to present the opening film, Shanghai-set The White Countess, in which Richardson stars.

Ang Lee also received hugecheers as he strolled up the red carpet and was later presented with an awardfor "Outstanding Contribution to Chinese-language Film".

Underscoring thecontradictions in China's fast-growing but still tightly controlled film market, no mention wasmade of Brokeback Mountain for whichhe recently won a best director Oscar. The film wasn't released in China due to its gay subject matter although it was widelyavailable on pirate DVD.

Coincidentally, NicoleKidman was also in Shanghai on Saturday for a promotional event for luxury watchbrand Omega but didn't make an appearance at the opening ceremony.

In addition to increasedstar wattage, the festival has also been striving to improve its programmingwhich has lacked focus in previous years.

Four of the 17 films in theJin Jue International Film Competition are world premieres and the line-up alsofeatures a British Films Showcase and retrospective of jury president LucBesson. Anthony Minghella, also the subject of a retrospective, is scheduled tospeak on Wednesday (June 21).

Ang Lee, who is gearing upto shoot Shanghai-set war thriller Lust,Caution this autumn, also spoke at a seminar on Sunday (June 18) about therelationship between Chinese cinema and Hollywood. "I can take advantage of thebest of both worlds but also suffer," said Lee. "One movie may be popular in China but another isn't welcome. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was not a success in China."

The festival also has afocus on Sino-European co-production and is hosting a series of one-to-onemeetings between European and Chinese filmmakers. A delegation from the UK film industry is also in town to discussco-production, check out locations and attend the Shanghai International Film& TV Market.

Pedro Almodovar's Volver closes the festival on June 25.