Matt Damon stars in two of the 21 films competing at the world's oldest film festival, and Ai Weiwei is running against George Clooney and Alexander Payne. Here are more highlights from the glamorous event's program.
In "Downsizing," the new film by US director Alexander Payne, Matt Damon - in the role of everyman Paul Safranek - gets shrunk to a miniature size, along with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig).
By shrinking, they are taking part in a radical project scientists have come up with it to deal with the world's over-population. The highly subsidized scientific experiment aims to improve people's lives. However, the small human guinea pigs predictably face a series of challenges.
Payne's satire opens the Venice Film Festival on Wednesday, setting the tone with a combination of humor and social criticism.
From Venice to the Oscars
There are 21 films competing for the Golden Lion this year. Payne's film is one seven US productions, an unusually high number of American entries for the world's oldest film festival.
Hollywood producers have noticed that Venice has turned into a good launch pad for Oscar season. Some of the films competing at the Italian film festival made it big half a year later at the Academy Awards. "La La Land," which opened the film festival last year, grabbed the world's attention afterwards.
That's why hopes are high for the films directed by George Clooney, Darren Aronofsky, Guillermo del Toro and Paul Schrader, premiering in Venice in the upcoming days.
Those directors also bring a bunch of stars with them. Matt Damon, Julianne Moore and Jennifer Lawrence will be among the big names walking the Lido's red carpet.
Two US film legends are also expected among those younger Hollywood stars: Jane Fonda and Robert Redford will be there to receive the honorary Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, while presenting the latest film they starred in together, "Our Souls at Night," directed by Ritesh Batra.
Strong French and Italian participation
Still, Venice wouldn't be Venice if its competition didn't also include great names of European and Asian cinema. France has three entries in the running, with films directed by Xavier Legrand, Robert Guédiguian and Abdellatif Kechiche.
Kechiche's movie, "Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno," is strongly awaited; the Tunisian-born filmmaker was the winner of the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival with his work "Blue Is the Warmest Color."
As the host of the festival, Italy also has a series of directors in the race. Award-winning filmmaker Paolo Virzi is a favorite among them.
The fact that documentary films are included in the competition of a major festival is no longer a novelty. Still, the entry of the work directed by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, "Human Flow," a documentary on refugees' plight worldwide, has grabbed the media's attention even before the start of the festival.
Read more: Provocative forever: Ai Weiwei turns 60
Several German co-productions on board
Germany contributed to the funding of "Human Flow," as well as to the Israeli film "Foxtrot," directed by Samuel Maoz. It's a family drama of blame and grief resulting from Israel's troubled politics.
Germany's involvement in these international works compensates a bit for the fact that this year's competition doesn't include any German director.
Films from Japan, China and Australia complete the line-up. The best films of the competition will be crowned with the Golden and Silver Lions, awarded on September 9. The president of this year's jury is US actress Annette Bening.
German productions are, however, programmed in other sections of the festival.
The young filmmaker Rick Ostermann will be showing his second feature film, "Krieg" in the section "Orizzonti." It stars Ullrich Matthes and Barbara Auer, depicting a couple whose life is thrown off track after their son is killed during a foreign assignment with the army. "Krieg" is a TV production. Four years ago, Ostermann's debut film, the post-war drama "Wolfskinder," also premiered in Venice.
The section Venice International Film Critics' Week features DFFB film school graduate Katharina Wyss' film "Sarah Joue un Loup-Garou," as well as Helena Wittmann's feature film debut, "Drift."
Exploring the history and future of film
Although not running in the competition, international filmmaking stars such as Stephen Frears, Abel Ferrara or Takeshi Kitano are also showing new works in parallel sections.
The section "Venice Virtual Reality" looks into the future of film, while the festival's renowned retrospective, "Venice Classics," showcases legendary films in newly restored versions.