The Venice Film Festival (which runs through Sept 11) has a strong ‘indie twang’ this year, according to director Marco Müller, as studios pull back on festival activities.

This year, the Venice Film Festival exudes a youthful glow. Presenting its youngest crop of directors in competition — with a median age of 48 years old, according to the festival — and a revamped Horizons (Orizzonti) section, artistic director Marco Müller, in his seventh year in the job, has nailed down 79 world premieres in an 83-title official selection. “There’s a very specific indie twang to the selection. And we like the ring of it because it means a lot of film-makers are re-centring around Venice,” says Müller.

Competition titles bearing the US indie stamp include Monte Hellman’s Road To Nowhere, Kelly Reichardt’s Lido debut Meek’s Cutoff, Vincent Gallo’s Promises Written In Water and Casey Affleck’s I’m Still Here.

Stars gracing Venice’s red carpet include Natalie Portman (who was already attracting early Oscar buzz for her performance in Black Swan), Elle Fanning, Benicio Del Toro, Dustin Hoffman, Paul Giamatti, Catherine Deneuve, Michelle Williams and Freida Pinto.

Even with a copious contingent of US films in Venice, Müller points to “changing strategies” within the US majors regarding festival premieres, and says they are becoming more selective about which titles make their debuts at festivals. “I’m sure that films which are strong and visible enough to avoid the festival circuit would probably do so.”

He says that festival launches are tending more towards films from the US specialty divisions, such as Fox Searchlight’s competition-opener Black Swan by returning Golden Lion winner Darren Aronofsky. Other highly anticipated titles include Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere — which Müller says offers “amazing cutting-edge satire” in its Italian-set scenes — Julian Schnabel’s Miral, Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins and Tom Tykwer’s Three.

Many titles, Müller says, reflect “the return of narrative power”, with five competition titles based on books: The Solitude Of Primary Numbers, Norwegian Wood, La Pecora Nera, Miral and Barney’s Version.

Müller also points to a rise in period films. Competition titles in this category include Mario Martone’s We Believed, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Black Venus, Alex de la Iglesia’s Ballad Of The Sad Trumpet, Meek’s Cutoff, Miral, Norwegian Wood and The Solitude Of Primary Numbers.

Also in competition, Müller points to Carlo Mazzacurati’s tragi-comedy La Passione, as “the very first successful experiment in…bringing back the Italian style comedy”. The film also reflects Müller’s retrospective series which unearths Italian films from the past. In this edition it focuses on Italian comedies from 1937-88.

On the business side, Müller is matter of fact about the lack of need for a Venice market: “Toronto has become the film market for Venice films,” he says. That said, 400 buyers attended last year’s edition.

Müller has noticed an increase in ­private buyer-targeted screenings taking place in Venice ahead of a festival premiere. “World sales [companies] are trying to use Venice to do screenings of independent films for a limited number of buyers… If [the screening] works well, the buyers appoint someone to stay on for the big public premiere. I see more and more people checking the length of the standing ovation on their watches. This is how the marketing of the film can be decided.”