- Associated Press - Thursday, July 26, 2012

MILAN — American directors dominated the competition lineup announced Thursday for this year’s slimmed-down Venice Film Festival aimed at making the world’s oldest movie festival easier to take in.

Brian De Palma and Terrence Malick are among 18 filmmakers competing for the coveted Golden Lion during the 69th edition of the festival, which runs from Aug. 29 through Sept. 8. In keeping with recent tradition, a secret film, the 18th entry, will be announced at a later date.

Creative director Alberto Barbera returned this year to the festival he directed from 1998-2002 with a pledge to trim the number of movies screened overall to allow those attending the festival to watch “at least almost everything.” In more recent editions, as many as 24 films were in competition and more than 100 were screened in all the side events.

This year, a total of 60 films will be shown, 50 of which are world premieres. They are from a pool of 1,459 feature films and 1,772 short films previewed.

Mr. Barbera said he agonized over which movies to let in, “losing some friends also gaining some others” along the way.

“Imagine the discussions, tensions, nerves and guilty feelings for what we chose and what we refused,” he said. “I forgot how dramatic and difficult it was to choose and call directors that I admire and respect the most and say to them, ‘Your film has not been chosen.’”

Both Mr. De Palma’s sexy thriller “Passion” and Mr. Malick’s romance “To The Wonder” star actress Rachel McAdams. It is Mr. De Palma’s first feature film since “Redacted,” which won Venice’s award for best direction in 2007.

Ramin Bahrani will premiere “At Any Price,” a film set in the competitive world of modern agriculture and starring Zac Efron, Dennis Quaid and Heather Graham, while fellow American Harmony Korine will show his comedy-romance “Spring Breakers,” starring James Franco, Selena Gomez and Vanessa Hudgens.

Besides the four U.S. directors, three Italians will premiere films. One of them is Marco Bellocchio, whose “Bella Addormentata” was inspired by the real-life case of a young Italian woman whose family waged a battle to remove her feeding tube after she was left comatose by an accident.

Otherwise, the broad field includes films from France, Israel, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the Philippines.

Many of the films in competition are co-productions, with France taking the lead with seven. Mr. De Palma’s film does not get U.S. billing at all, but is rather a French-German production.

Past Golden Lion-winner Mira Nair opens the festival with “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” starring Riz Ahmed, Kat Hudson, Kiefer Sutherland and Liev Schreiber. The film, which is being shown out of competition, is based on the best-selling book about a young Pakistani Wall Street analyst who gets swept into conflict in his homeland after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Ms. Nair won the Golden Lion in 2001 for “Monsoon Wedding.”

Mr. Barbera said the latest festival puts an emphasis on world cinema and also directors who are not household names. He also noted that one-third of the films showing at the festival were directed by women — something that happened by chance, he said, because he usually doesn’t look at the director’s name ahead of time.

“New countries are embracing film production, new authors, new unknown directors,” Mr. Barbera said. “Of course, not everyone could access the festival, but we tried to insert a lot of unknown and promising artists.”