The Venice Film Festival has revealed a total of 71 world premieres – including 23 in competition - across the programme for its 66th edition.

Its organisers claim the line-up, which has a heavy US-European slant across the main competition, offers the most varied line-up of nationalities since its 61st edition (2004). While it offers a plethora of Italian pictures thanks to new ramped up sections dedicated to homegrown fare - with twenty two films across different sections- the line-up also features 17 films from the US, five from China, four Indian films and three Egyptian titles.

In competition, six US films will vie for the Golden Lion - up one from last year’s US competition. This year, Italy and France are neck and neck with four films each followed by Germany and China (in co-production with Hong Kong and Taiwan) with two films each to be judged by the jury, led by two-time Golden Lion winner Ang Lee.

Following on from last year, there are no British films in competition and there is only short film from the UK – Werner Herzog’s four minute La Boheme, which is part of the Orizzonti Special Events – across the whole line-up.

That said it is arguably one of Marco Mueller’s strongest editions during his six year tenure. When asked how the financial downturn had affected the programme at this morning’s press conference, Mueller pointed out that two of the US titles screening - Capitalism: A Love Story from Michael Moore and Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! - reflect theme of the US’s economic decline.

Moore’s documentary charts the disastrous impact of corporate power on everyday Americans. It brings Moore to the Lido for the first time and comes in advance of the film’s North American debut of the film at Toronto. Meanwhile, TheInformant! is a comic thriller based on a true story about a bipolar Ivy League PhD (Matt Damon) who alerts the FBI to price fixing practices at the Illinois agri-business he works for, while at the same time is involved in corruption of another sort.

Other US films in competition are Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a re-make of Abel Ferrara’s original starring Val Kilmer, Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes and John Hillcoat’s The Road based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of 2007.  

Following last year’s successful bow of Valentino: The Last Emperor about fashion designer Valentino Garavani, this year sees another fashion great, former Gucci creative director Tom Ford present his directorial debut A Single Man, which stars Julianne Moore and Colin Firth. Meanwhile, Todd Solondz – last in Venice with 2004’s Palindromes - brings Life During Wartime, a wry look at individuals searching for the meaning of life in a war-torn world. Finally George Romero’s Survival of The Dead, a continuation of his Living Dead series.

And – no Venice would be complete with out George Clooney. This year director Grant Heslov re-joins with Clooney after their 2005 success at Venice with Good Night, And Good Luck, which won the Osella for best screenplay among other awards. Telling the story of an Iraq-based reporter that stumbles on a battalion employing paranormal powers in their missions, The Men Who Stare At Goats also features Ewan McGregor, Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey.

These films will assure Venice can offer the Hollywood star power the paparazzi – and daily tabloids crave – but – France, too, will hold its own on the glamour quotient bringing a bevy of films boasting, in particular, some of the top women in their industry.

Hot on the heals of her award for best actress in Cannes Charlotte Gainsbourg is in Venice as part of a love triangle in Patrice Chereau’s Persecution. Gainsbourg’s mother – icon Jane Birkin stars with Italian actor Sergio Castellito, who enjoys a strong following in France, in Jacques Rivette’s 36 Vues Du Pic Saint Loup, a biopic on author Raymond Roussel.

Claire Denis – in Venice last year with the mesmerizing 35 Shots of Rum (out of competition) which received enough strong critical reviews that she is back in competition with her latest feature White Material. The film is a contemporary story set in Africa during a troubled political moment featuring Isabelle Huppert as a coffee plantation owner. Rounding out the French offer is Jaco van Dormael’s Mr. Nobody, a 20 and 21st century time zone jumping fantasy romance with Diane Kruger and Sarah Polley.

Egypt offers some local star power with Omar Sharif in the Amhed Maher film The Traveller (El Mosafer), Sri Lanka is in competition with Vimukhti Jayasundara’s Between Two Worlds (Ahasin Wetei). The director won the 2005 Camera d’Or at Cannes for The Forsaken Land. From Israel – Lebanon (Levanon) by Samuel Maoz chronicles 24 hours in the life of four soldiers involved in the controversial 1982 Israeli invasion.

Along with Moore, Fatih Akin is an awaited Venice first-timer with his film Soul Kitchen, the story of a beleaguered bar owner attempting to keep his business afloat. Also from Germany is Iranian-born but US-based Shirin Neshat’s debut feature Women Without Men (Zanan-e bedun-e mardan) developed at the Sundance Institute’s Screenwriter’s Lab.  Austria’s Jessica Hausner brings Lourdes about a young woman who suffers from multiple sclerosis who travels to the city and is miraculously cured.

Italy is out in force again this year with four films in competition. As previously announced - Baaria - Giuseppe Tornatore’s Sicilian epic, Italy’s most expensive production in recent years comes to the Lido via Medusa to open the festival in competition. Also from Medusa, Michele Placido’s 1968 themed film The Big Dream (Il Grande Sogno), a psychological thriller and Giuseppe Capotondi’s debut La Doppia Ora. It is produced by Indigo Film’s Francesca Cima and Nicola Giuliano with Medusa that stars Ksenya Rappoport and Filippo Timi.

Meanwhile, Rai Cinema brings Francesca Comencini’s maternity themed The Empty Space (Lo Spazio Bianco) starring Margherita Buy and set in the cinematographic city of Naples. The Orizzonti section dedicated to cutting edge cinema also hosts I Am Love (Io Sono Amore) an anticipated title from Luca Guadagnino, which stars Tilda Swinton as a Russian in an Italian-speaking role.

From Asia - Tetsuo The Bullet Man from Shinya Tsukamoto is the third episode in the Tetsuo franchise that also marks director Shinya Tsukamoto’s English-language debut.

Prince Of Tears (Lei Wangzi) by acclaimed filmmaker Yonfan is a China-Taiwan-Hong Kong co-production set in 1950s during the period known as “White Terror” when an anti-Communist campaign swept the island. Accident (Yi Ngoi), a police thriller by Cheang Pou-Soi from China/Hong Kong is produced by Johnnie To and rounds out the Asians in competition. As previously announced Chengdu, I Love You, co-directed by Fruit Chan and Cui Jian, will close the festival.

The Orizzonti line up has been “fortified”, according to Mueller, with films from the Alps to the Andes including Bobby Paunescu’s Francesca, from Romania, which opens the section. It is seasoned with cutting edge films from around the globe – Tunisia brings Raja Amari’s Buried Secrets (Dohawa) featuring Venice discovery Hafsia Herzi; the US’s Alex Cox brings Repo Chick, Vietnam’s Bui Thac Chuyen with the film Adrift (Choi Voi); Swiss film Pepperminta, a comedy and debut from visual artist Pipilotti Rist and Hector Galvez’s Paraiso from Peru.

Over all the selection – 16 first works – of which five are in the main competition will be eligible for the $100,000 Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future award for first works.

Mueller and Biennale president Paolo Baratta gave ample space to protesters campaigning against potential cuts to Italy’s single arts fund. Mueller went out to speak to the group, which includes some of Italy’s top talent such as Pier Francesco Favino, Claudio Santamaria and Sabrina Ferilli, for 45 minutes.

Baratta also confirmed the Biennale has lost $3.1m (€2.2m) in cuts but has made up the funds from other sources.

Summing up, Mueller was simple: this year in Venice - “whoever wants to find out what is happening in cinema can come and find answers.”