Clooney to kick off star-studded Venice festival

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The Independent Culture

Venice's lagoon was awash with water taxis whisking cinema buffs and paparazzi to the Lido island for the world's oldest film festival on Wednesday, ahead of a star-studded opening evening ceremony.

Hollywood beau George Clooney's fourth film as a director, "Ides of March", was set to screen at 1700 GMT to open the competition, which will see 22 films - all world premieres - compete for the prestigious Golden Lion award.

Luxury hotels and high-end beach bars were abuzz with producers, actors and the odd tourist hopeful of catching a glimpse of a-listers from Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow, to "The Godfather" great Al Pacino, and superstar Madonna.

Clooney - who owns a house in northern Italy and is a favourite at the festival - kicked off the paparazzi frenzy on Tuesday, arriving by water taxi sporting a pair of dark glasses - but without the rumoured new girlfriend.

The blue-eyed star will be hoping to snag his first Golden Lion as a director after winning best screenplay and best actor in Venice in 2005 for "Goodnight and Goodluck" but losing the Lion to Ang Lee's "Brokeback Mountain."

His latest thriller about a US presidential campaign, in which a fresh-faced aide helping the Democratic governor campaign in the Ohio primaries discovers just how dirty politics can be, wowed critics at an advance screening in Paris.

The director has been quoted as saying the work was ready to begin filming in 2008 when Barack Obama won the US presidential elections, and some may hope to see a reflection of the current political climate in Clooney's cynical tale.

The glamour at the opening ceremony is set to continue into Thursday with the world premieres of French-Polish director Roman Polanski's "Carnage" and Madonna's "W.E," which is screening out of competition.

Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet are expected on the red carpet for "Carnage," which is based on an acclaimed French play about two sets of parents who meet up to talk after their children get into a fight.

But Polanski, famous for films such as "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) and "The Pianist" (2002), will not be present. Wanted in the United States for alleged sexual assault back in 1977, he risks extradition should he travel to Italy.

Screaming fans will be out in force again on Thursday evening, however, for the premier of "W.E.", Madonna's film about King Edward VIII's romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

"W.E.", starring British actors James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough, was two years in the making, and explores the controversial love story between the Duke and Duchess of Windsor through the eyes of a lonely modern-day New Yorker.

Costume Designer Arianne Phillips worked extensively with labels such as Cartier, Dior, and Dunhill to recreate Wally's extraordinary appetite for fashion and exquisite, enormous collection of jewels and shoes.

Despite the glittering array of stars and jewels, critics in Venice will be looking to the jury - led by Darren Aronofsky, director of the Oscar-winning film "Black Swan" - for pointers on upcoming talent both on and off camera.

The festival starts on August 31 and concludes on September 10.

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