ROME - Hollywood honchos and aspiring stars will be boating into Venice for a dark, crisis-themed film festival from Wednesday, with British and American films dominating the race for the coveted Golden Lion award.
George Clooney and co-star Sandra Bullock will rock the red carpet on the opening night, kicking off the festival with the hotly anticipated "Gravity", a 3D sci-fi thriller starring the pair as astronauts.
"Gravity", a harrowing space drama about a fight for survival when a debris shower destroys a shuttle, is Mexican Alfonso Cuaron's first work since "Children of Men" seven years ago, and promises to leave viewers gasping for air.
The film is one of several hellish tales at the festival, which features the return of the family as the vessel for social, political and economic crisis, from child abuse and abductions to absent fathers and marriage breakdowns.
The 53 films screening reflect a "dark and violent reality", festival director Alberto Barbera said in Rome last month as he unveiled the line-up.
"Filmmakers are not giving any signs of optimism or a way out," he said.
Five of the 20 flicks vying for the coveted Golden Lion prize hail from the United States, including the reportedly gruelling "Parkland", Peter Landesman's re-creation of John F. Kennedy's assassination through the eyes of those battling to save him.
David Gordon Green's "Joe", a brutal drama starring Nicholas Cage as an ex-con who becomes an unlikely role model for a homeless child, runs against Kelly Reichardt's "Night Moves" about eco-activists plotting to blow up a dam.