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Venice Film Festival opens

Hot premieres, A-list stars on tap at event

The Venice Film Festival’s 75th anniversary kicks off Wednesday amid high expectations, both for world preems and big stars expected on its striking new catwalk.

A giant demolition ball to symbolize renewal has been made to look like it’s smashing the facade of the fascist-era Palazzo del Cinema right behind the red carpet. It’s the creation of Oscar-winning production designer Dante Ferretti, devised with fest artistic director Marco Mueller to celebrate the anniversary, just as construction on future digs are finally about to start.

“It’s definitely a sign that there is bound to be a new phase, because, with all this history, if we don’t keep moving, then Venice will just keep repeating itself and fade,” Mueller told Daily Variety.

For Mueller’s fourth time at the helm, possibly his swan song, the Lido lord has assembled a rich mix of name directors and potential discoveries with a decidedly English-language bent — Yank and Brit pics make up half the competish.

The paparazzi are going to be molto busy with Keira Knightley, Jude Law, Michael Caine, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Brad Pitt, among the stars said to be trekking to the Lido.

Due to the onslaught of top-tier talent, an existing helicopter pad at the Lido’s Nicelli airport has been spruced up and reactivated for star transport to and from hotels, though most talent will still be arriving by motorboat at the Excelsior pier.

“The heli-pad was highly necessary,” Mueller said. “If the festival is going to have this level of high-profile attendance, obviously you need to sort out the logistics for that.”

Knightley, James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave will be inaugurating the new catwalk today, as key cast of fest opener “Atonement,” young Brit helmer Joe Wright’s adaptation of the Ian McEwan novel.

A dinner party thrown by the Venice Biennale, Universal and automaker Lancia for 1,200 invitees will segue to the Excelsior beach.

Law and Caine star in Kenneth Branagh’s “Sleuth” remake, which unspools Thursday, on the same day as Ang Lee’s erotic espionage thriller “Lust, Caution,” toplining Tony Leung and newcomer Tang Wei. “Lust” has been given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA.

Clooney will arrive by helicopter at the Lido from his villa in nearby Lake Como to tubthump tyro helmer Tony Gilroy’s legal thriller “Michael Clayton,” for which Tilda Swinton will also be on hand.

Johansson is making the trek for both “The Nanny Diaries,” on Friday, and Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream,” which world preems out-of-competish Sunday.

Pitt is the protag of Western drama “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” also unspooling Sunday, in competish.

Fest organizers have announced that Johnny Depp will be on hand to present some just-added advance footage of Tim Burton’s “Sweeney Todd” adaptation, and to bestow Burton with his lifetime achievement Lion on Sept. 5, which will be “Tim Burton Day” on the Lido.

Another late addition to the fest is likely to be Hong Kong gangster specialist Johnny To’s latest, “The Mad Detective.”

This edition of Venice could be Mueller’s last because the well-liked Lido topper’s four-year mandate expires this year. The contract is renewable, but Italo politics could jeopardize his reappointment.

While Venice, the world’s oldest film event, is celebrating its 75th anni, this is the Lido’s 64th edition because WWII and 1968 political protests forced it to skip a few years.

Fest will run today through Sept 8.

(Derek Elley contributed to this report.)

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