VENICE, ITALY (AP) - In film, recession may be the mother of innovation.
The Venice Film Festival opens Wednesday with its share of big-screen bound blockbuster potential, from Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan," to Sofia Coppola's highly anticipated "Somewhere" and Ben Affleck's sophomore directorial effort, "The Town."
But director Marco Mueller says that the economic downturn has forced even big name directors to come up with cheaper means of production, giving rise to innovation and an "in-between" budget category _ bridging low-budget under a million dollars and mid-range of around euro6 million-euro7 million ($7.5 million to $9 million).
"In between there was very little. And now several people rush to occupy that special space," Mueller told The Associated Press in an interview. "Because it's also the space where with some local, regional subsidy, some private money, and maybe with a few distributors interested in the project you can get your film off the ground."
Oscar-winning Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore, limited after last year's big-budget bonanza "Baaria," turned to documentary making this year with a portrait of Italian cinematographer Goffredo Lombardo still in progress, to be shown out of competition.
Vincent Gallo will be at the Lido both as an actor, playing a terror suspect plotting his escape in Jerzy Skolimowski's "Essential Killing," and as the director of two films.
"Both films are entirely self-produced. He started with a short film, then he actually realized that using the same mode of production he could dare to look forward to a feature," Mueller said. The result is "Promises Written in the Water," which will compete for the Golden Lion.
The film tells a romantic story about a man _ a professional assassin _ and a woman confronting terminal illness. It was shot without preparation or a traditional script.
And U.S. director Monte Hellman, whose influence has been greater than his popular acclaim, will be showing his movie "Road to Nowhere" in competition. The film is described as a romantic thriller about a filmmaker who becomes involved in a criminal conspiracy.
"Monte made the film he has wanted to make for several years on a shoestring budget with an incredible cast using quite a few important names and all of a sudden we have a film with special effects. Without being a travelogue it does move to a number of countries and it cost less than $2 million," Mueller said.
Second only to Cannes in terms of prestige, Venice has suffered since the economic downturn of 2008, with many Hollywood producers preferring the cheaper option of taking their movies to the Toronto Film Festival, which overlaps with Venice.
However, Mueller has continued to insist that his festival will accept primarily world premieres _ 79 are showing at this year's festival _ and believes that events are moving back in Venice's favor.
"A lot of people now are counting on a two-step operation where the visibility, the credibility of the film is built in Venice, Venice reveals the immediate aesthetical qualities of the film, or everything that makes this film very exciting. And Toronto reveals the market value of the film."
The Venice festival opens with an unprecedented triple-header: Golden Lion-winner Aronofsky's "Black Swan" and Hong Kong director Andrew Lau's "The Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen," starring Donnie Yen, followed by a special midnight screening of Robert Rodriguez's "Machete."
"I can predict that at midnight the atmosphere will still be the atmosphere of a rock concert or a football match," Mueller said.
Festivities get under way Tuesday evening with a tribute to one of Italy's most famous cinematic and theatrical actors, Vittorio Gassman, with a free, open-air screening of the 1974 classic "Scent of a Woman" in a Venetian square attended by the Gassman family.
In addition, the Italian edition of Vanity Fair is hosting a party in a palace on the Grand Canal for Quentin Tarantino, who heads the jury that will select the winner of the prestigious Golden Lion on Sept. 11. And the industry publication Variety is holding a big party where it presented producer Aurelio De Laurentiis with an award.
"America considers the movie business the first business of the country, how to export their taste everywhere," De Laurentiis said as he accepted the honor. "I'm sad (that) in Italy we have a lot of things but we never use movies to bring outside of our territory our values."
Mueller will have to hit each of the events within the space of three hours _ no easy feat when boats plying Venice's canals must comply with strict speed limits.
"If we speed, they will give us a speeding ticket. Every year the boat I use gets a speeding ticket. They plant them right where we have to go. Fantastic," Mueller said, with a glint of amusement.
(This version CORRECTS Links more photos. corrects De Laurentiis first name from Dino to Aurelio in 17th graf; adds producer's quote. minor edits. Links photos)