The Venice film festival kicked off an art house dominated line-up on Wednesday with a thriller by Mira Nair about a Pakistani man torn between East and West after the September 11 attacks.
Hollywood heavyweights, famous auteurs and up-and-coming starlets arrived in water taxis on the famous Lido island, sashaying along the red carpet for the opening ceremony of the world's oldest international film festival.
"Everybody's looking forward to getting down to work. There is a bunch of new work and inspiring films over the next few days," US producer and director Michael Mann, who is heading up the jury this year, told reporters.
Mann said he would look in particular at "new methods of story-telling."
French model and actress Laetitia Casta, a member of the jury who wore a black lace dress that left little to the imagination, said: "I prefer this place because I leave my ego behind to look at the work of others.
Indian film director Mira Nair poses during the photocall of "The reluctant fundamentalist" at the 69th Venice film festival.
"For me it's an honour because this is a very respected festival," she said.
Joining Casta on the red carpet were Kate Hudson, Naomi Watts and the cast of Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" starring British actor Riz Ahmed as Changez -- a soulful Pakistani who rejects fundamentalism in all its forms.
Nair's clash of civilizations tale is set in New York and Lahore before and after September 11 and drew gasps from the audience as it portrayed the discrimination suffered in America by Changez following the attacks.
The character rises the Wall Street but is increasingly alienated by the United States and returns to Pakistan where he starts teaching at a university riven by militancy where CIA agents are searching for a kidnapped US professor.
"We all know there's been an enormous schism, a wall between East and West in the past decade. I wanted to bring some sense of bridge-making, some sense of healing that goes beyond stereotype," Nair said at a press conference.
"I believe I've been put on this earth to tell stories of people like me who live between worlds," she said, adding that she had drawn inspiration from her own experience of changing attitudes in the aftermath of September 11.
Among the most keenly awaited premieres are Terrence Malick's "To the Wonder" -- a complex love story starring Ben Affleck -- and Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep" with himself as a former Weather Underground militant.
One of the 18 films vying for the Golden Lion prize will be Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master" with Philip Seymour Hoffman as a character resembling Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard -- a movie bound to raise controversy.
Music is also on the menu with Spike Lee's hotly anticipated "Bad 25" documentary about pop icon Michael Jackson and Jonathan Demme of "The Silence of the Lambs" fame with his homage to Neapolitan crooner Enzo Avitabile.
US actress Kate Hudson arrives for the opening ceremony of the 69th Venice film festiva.
Alongside US stars like director Brian De Palma and actresses Kate Hudson, Selena Gomez and Winona Ryder, there are also famous Asian directors Takeshi Kitano of Japan ("Outrage Beyond") and Kim Ki-duk of South Korea ("Pieta").
The first edition of the festival was held back in 1932 on the terrace of the glamorous Excelsior Hotel on the Venice Lido and featured movies by some of the best known directors of the time like Frank Capra and Howard Hawks.
This year's festival, which runs until September 8, will project a total of 52 films including 21 by women directors -- in contrast with the Cannes festival this year which featured no women directors for films in competition.
Organisers said they were also keen to scout out "new talent" in cinema.
"The world is exploding. In India, in China, in Europe and I'm hoping to see a new wave of cinema coming from different places, learn from it and do it myself," said Indian director Shekhar Kapoor, who heads up one of the juries.
Among the newcomers will be Haifaa al-Mansour from Saudi Arabia -- where cinemas are banned and women face sweeping discrimination -- with her film "Wadjda" about a little girl desperate for a bicycle which she is not allowed.
Going back into Hollywood lore, the festival will also feature reclusive Oscar-winner Michael Cimino ("The Deer Hunter") and a new director's cut of his epic Western "Heaven's Gate" -- one of the biggest movie flops of all time.