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What to watch for at the Venice Film Festival

The Venice Film Festival opens on August 27 with a comedy, but promises plenty of hot political fare over the next 11 days. German director Fatih Akin is one of 20 directors competing for the prestigious Golden Lion.

German director Fatih Akin, who was born in Hamburg to parents of Turkish descendent, is one of 20 directors presenting their new films at the

Venice International Film Festival

this year. Akin's film

"The Cut"

takes on a controversial topic: the mass killings of Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during World War I, which is widely regarded as genocide.

"The Cut" tells the story of a young craftsman who gets separated from his family during the 1915 Armenian Massacres and embarks on a journey across the globe to find his daughter.

Akin tackles touchy topic

In an interview with Turkish-Armenian weekly "Agos," Akin said he feels that Turkey is ready for a film like "The Cut," even though the Armenian Massacres are not widely discussed in the country.

German director Fatih Akin, Copyright: Vanessa-Maas/bombero international

German director Fatih Akin competes at the Venice Film Festival for a Golden Lion this year

Akin, however, had to

drop plans

to make a film about murdered Armenian journalist

Hrant Dink

, who was killed in 2007 in a crime yet to be fully resolved. Akin couldn't find a Turkish actor who wanted to play the lead role of Hrant. Every single actor Akin approached felt the script was "too harsh" and Akin didn't want any actor to get hurt, as he told "Agos." "That's why I had to cancel the project," he said.

"The Cut" is just one of several political contributions competing for the Golden and Silver Lion at the oldest international film festival in the world, which runs from August 27 to September 6.

The French movie "Loin des homes" addresses the war in Algeria, while the American production "Good Kill" discusses modern warfare with drones. And the US movie "99 Homes" deals with real estate speculation and its consequences for average citizens.

International co-productions

A scene from the film Sivas by Turkish director Kaan Müjdeci, Copyright: 71st Venice International Film Festival

A boy and his stray dog are portrayed in the film "Sivas"

Alberto Barbera, director of the Venice Film Festival, and his team focused on productions from Europe this year. Numerous contributions from France and host country Italy are part of the program, but also movies from Sweden and Turkey as well as international co-productions made with European funds are on the agenda. Germany helped finance the new film by Swedish director Roy Andersson - "A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence" -, who is known for his satirical and surreal look at the world.

The film "Sivas" by Turkish director Kaan Müjdeci, who works and lives in Germany, is a Turkish-German co-production. It tells the story of an 11-year-old boy and a stray dog in an Anatolian province. Apart from a focus on political topics, this year's Venice Film Festival also stands out through numerous films that are characterized by a melodramatic storyline.

In the film "Manglehorn," Hollywood star Al Pacino plays a man that can't get over a past love, while the Italian movie "Hungry Hearts" portrays a couple in New York whose relationship is put to the test by dramatic circumstances.

Film nations Iran and Russia represented

The Venice Film Festival also shows movies from countries that usually don't make the blockbuster lists, such as Iran and Russia. It gives these countries a chance to present themselves to global audiences and reporters.

A scene from the film Birdman by Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Copyright: 71st Venice International Film Festival

"Birdman" deals with the life of a former movie star

The Iranian film "Ghesseha" by director Rakhshan Bani-E'temad offers a broad panorama of Iran's modern society. Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky gives insight into a Russian province and the challenges people living far away from modern civilization have to deal with.

Although numerous dramas are on the line-up, the film festival opens with a comedy by Mexican star director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. In his film "Birdman," former Batman-star Michael Keaton plays a has-been film star who is fighting for a dignified end to his career. It's a movie about the world of making movies.

Director Abel Ferrara also competes with a film about movie making at the Venice Film Festival. "Passolini" depicts the last 24 hours in the life of Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini before he was killed.

Film composer as head of the jury

German director Philip Gröning at the 70th Venice Film Festival, Copyright: GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Philip Gröning received the prestigious prize last year

In the end, the jury, headed by film composer Alexandre Desplat, will decide who will end up with the prestigious Golden Lion. By his side are two German-speaking directors: Austrian Jessica Haussner and her German colleague Philip Gröning.

Gröning himself received the special jury prize at last year's Venice Film Festival for his movie "The Police Officer's Wife." Now he can help decide who will bring home the Golden Lion this year. Before the start of the festival, Gröning said that winning a prize like the Golden Lion can be decisive for a director's career.

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