VENICE, Italy - - "Videocracy," a searing documentary on Silvio Berlusconi's frothy television empire, premiered in Venice on Thursday, accusing the prime minister of creating a laughing stock.
The 66th Venice film festival also showcased US directors vying for the Golden Lion: cult filmmaker Todd Solondz with his neurotic dark comedy "Life During Wartime" and John Hillcoat's post-apocalyptic drama "The Road".
The event's first Asian film in the competition, Yonfan's "Prince of Tears", will screen Friday, recounting the brutal anti-communist White Terror in 1950s Taiwan.
"I heard, I felt and I saw all the things in this movie," Yonfan says of the web of intrigue and betrayals that led to the summary execution of more than 3,000 people suspected of spying for the mainland communists.
On Thursday, "Videocracy" director Erik Gandini said that "television has invaded the collective imagination" in Italy.
"Outsiders laugh at our television, and at Berlusconi ... but it has had a very notable impact on our country," Gandini told a press conference at the lagoon city's Mostra.
The documentary by Gandini, who lives in Sweden but was born and brought up in Italy, takes an eye-opening look at both the content of the Italian prime minister's three channels and how they have shaped the country's psyche.
Game shows and variety shows featuring scantily clad women, now seen by many as a ticket to wealth, fame or power, dominate the channels operated by the Berlusconi family's Mediaset group.
"In Italy, television and power are really connected in a way that's very unusual," Gandini told AFP.
"Banality is presented as innocuous... but in Italy it has become a political tool," added Gandini, whose film was selected for the Venice Days and International Critics' Week sections of the festival.
"You can have a career without knowing how to do anything," he said, pointing to the most prominent example of the Minister for Equal Opportunities, Mara Carfagna, a former showgirl from one of Berlusconi's TV networks.
Berlusconi has said he has no hand in programming, and claimed that the media, even the outlets controlled by Mediaset, are largely independent.
"The press and television are against those in power," he told French television in May. "In Italy... that applies to 90 percent of the press and practically all the TV networks. They all want to show their independence."
He added: "Every day they say something against me, even my (networks)."
Solondz's new film involving intersecting love stories explores tortured consciences and self-destructive lives in a heavily Jewish southern Florida locale where people are peripherally aware that the nation is at war.
Reprising the main characters of his 1998 film "Happiness," Solondz assigns the roles to three new actresses: Joy to Shirley Henderson, Trish to Allison Janney and Helen to Ally Sheedy.
Hillcoat's film based on the best-seller by Cormac McCarthy, while billed as post-apocalyptic, was much more about love, its creators said Thursday.
A barren world heading toward total annihilation after an unspecified cataclysm is the setting for this struggle by a father, played by Viggo Mortensen of Denmark, to ensure the survival of his son (Kodi Smit McPhee).
The pair evade gangs who had resorted to cannibalism and endure long stretches without food, making the father ever more desperate but kindling a protective force in the son.
"It was stripped down to the essentials," Mortensen said. "It's about character, about how you behave... when you have nothing left but your heartbeat and the heartbeat of your son."
"The child winds up being the teacher," Mortensen said.
Hopelessness had driven the mother, played by Charlize Theron, to suicide years earlier.
In all more than 80 films will be presented at the festival, which runs to September 12.