The Biennale is expected to hold the next edition of the Venice Film Festival from Sept 1 to 11, 2004, moving its dates back a few days from its usual slot in order to provide a more lucrative platform for Italian independent distributors to release their autumn titles. Its 2004 edition had previously been announced as being held from Aug 27 to Sept 5.

Most local distributors use the festival as a publicity-boosting launch pad for their autumn slates, often timing the release of their titles to coincide with their Venice screening.

However, given that the Italian box office season only begins to take off in mid-September after its summer lull, many insiders believe that the local box office would benefit from slightly later festival dates.

Over the last few years, Venice has run from the end of August through the first week of September, with buyers often leaving the festival mid-way to head off to the Toronto Film Festival.

However, Toronto has already announced that it will run its 2004 edition from September 9-18.

Venice organisers have not yet confirmed the new dates, but are expected to do so at a press conference scheduled for April 15.

The 61st edition of the festival will be the first to be headed by former Locarno and Rotterdam chief Marco Mueller, who replaced Moritz de Hadeln earlier this month.

Titles expected to feature at the festival include the world premiere of Michael Radford's Merchant Of Venice, starring Al Pacino, Joseph Fiennes and Jeremy Irons, currently in post-production.

According to local media reports, other titles that could also get a showing include Steven Spielberg's The Terminal with Tom Hanks and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic, which is currently wrapping at Rome's Cinecitta Studios.

On the Italian front, according to Film Italia's daily Tamtamcinema, Venice could also host the premieres of Gianni Amelio's The Keys To The House, Vincenzo Marra's Vento Di Terra, Paolo Sorrentino's Le Consequenze dell'Amore, and 80 year-old Vittorio de Seta's Letters From The Sahara.

Venice's official line-up will be announced at the end of July.