VENICE, Italy, Sept. 6 (Xinhua) -- Now at its midway point, this year's Venice Film Festival has lacked the star power and the glamour of recent years, and the weather on Venice's Lido island has been unusually overcast and rainy.
But the festival appears to have more than compensated with what many on Monday called its strongest lineup in years.
Ever since the festival got underway on Sept. 1, every day has included at least one attention-grabbing premiere that critics say could contend for the festival's coveted Golden Lion prize, while several screenings have turned people away because of space limitations.
Perhaps most importantly, many international distributors who usually use the middle weekend to depart Venice in order to prepare for the start of the Toronto International Film Festival, which overlaps with Venice most years, appear to be staying around longer than in past years.
"The selection of films is strong, and that's raising expectations for the films yet to show," said Oliviero Parra, a freelancer buyer who works with several mid-size international distributors.
Mark Holdom, from Pantera Films, agreed. "The other big festivals so far this year had uneven selections in their lineups," he said. "Venice is the only one that seems even stronger than ever this year."
The in-competition titles garnering widespread attention so far this year are eclectic, including Darren Aronofy's "Black Swan," about the rivalry between two dancers in a ballet company; "Silent Souls" from Russian director Aleksei Fedorchenko, about a man's moving journey to return his dead wife to where she was raised; Sofia Coppola's "Somewhere," about a movie star father's relationship with his young daughter; the western drama "Meek's Cutoff" from Kelly Reichardt, which tells the story of a lost wagon train from a female point of view; "Potiche," a comedy from France's Francois Ozon; and "Reign of Assassins," a thriller co-directed by John Woo, who also won the festival's career honor earlier in the festival.
Additionally, "The Ditch," a 1950s-era drama set in China from director Wang Bing, was announced Monday as the festival's traditional surprise film -- the 24th and final film vying for the Golden Lion -- and is already generating its fair share of buzz.
Not that the festival has been problem free. The biggest issues so far, participants say, involves infrastructure: the massive building project for the festival's new Palazzo del Cinema, set to open in 2012, has forced the temporary closure of one screen, and has limited access to some other venues.
And the luxury Des Bains hotel is closed this year for restructuring, depriving the festival of star-ready 300 hotel beds as well as a popular location for press junkets, which have been distributed this year to a handful of alternative locations -- many of which have sparked complaints from production houses.
The relative lack of star power on the Lido -- Venice regulars like George Clooney and Brad Pitt are absent this year -- has left less for paparazzi to focus on.
While the rain is rarely more than a minor nuisance during the festival, a torrential rain storm on Friday left many of the Lido's streets looking more like Venice canals, and at least one key figure, actor Roschdy Zem, missed the press conference for the romantic drama "Happy Few" from Antony Cordier because the rain temporarily made moving around the Lido too difficult.
The 67th edition of the Venice event, the world's oldest film festival, will conclude Saturday.