US cult director Terrence Malick premieres his "To the Wonder" starring Ben Affleck at a crisis-themed Venice film festival next month alongside new talent from Guatemala, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.
Hollywood hunk Affleck, who stars in Malick's romantic drama, is expected on the red carpet of the world's oldest film festival, along with stars including Javier Bardem and Kate Hudson, organisers said Thursday.
"The main recurring theme is the crisis," festival director Alberto Barbera told reporters in Rome. "The economic crisis, which is having devastating social effects, but also the crisis of values, the political crisis.
The 2012 edition of the festival on the shores of the watery city will feature the latest works by Japanese director Takeshi Kitano ("Outrage Beyond") and South Korean director Kim Ki-duk ("Pieta").
In the first, a sequel to Kitano's 2010 "Outrage", Japanese criminal gangs clash as police try to outwit the gangsters, while in "Pieta", a loan shark's world is turned upside down when he meets a woman claiming to be his mother.
The festival, which runs from August 29 to September 8, will feature 51 world premieres including "The Company You Keep," a thriller about a left-wing militant on the run from the FBI, directed by and starring Robert Redford.
Also showing for the first time are "Passion" by Brian De Palma and Spike Lee's documentary about Michael Jackson "Bad 25".
The hotly-awaited "Passion", De Palma's first feature film in six years, stars Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace in a "Basic Instinct" style thriller which draws inspiration from Alain Corneau's 2010 French film "Love Crime."
"Bad 25", which focuses on the iconic artist's BAD album, features over 40 interviews conducted by Spike Lee with friends, collaborators and musicians involved in the BAD tour, from Kanye West to Mariah Carey and Sheryl Crow.
Other offerings include "Shokuzai" ("Penance") a five-hour horror epic by Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa originally shown as a television series, which Barbera said was "absolutely extraordinary".
The festival kicks off with a showing of US-based Indian director Mira Nair's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist" -- a political thriller about a young Pakistani torn between Wall Street ambitions and the call of his homeland.
Italian director Marco Bellocchio, who was awarded the Career Golden Lion at the Venice festival last year, returns with "Dormant Beauty," a film which explores the theme of euthanasia and the meaning of life.
Inspired by the true story of Eluana Englaro, a young Italian who lived 17 years in a vegetative state after a car accident, it follows the last six days of her life and her father's fight to allow her to die naturally.
Barbera said the festival included several well-established directors but also aimed to showcase up-and-coming cinematographers to reflect what he called "a great productive ferment" in the industry despite the crisis.
One example is the film "Wadjda" by female director Haifaa Al Mansour from Saudi Arabia -- where cinemas are banned and women face discrimination.
The film tells the story of a little girl growing up in traditional society in the suburbs of Riyadh and desperate for a bicycle, which she is not allowed.
"We have taken risks. There are many established directors but also less famous directors and many unknown young directors from countries without cinematic traditions and without real access to the market," Barbera said.
"Festivals should revert to their original roles of exploration, of scoping out innovation, instead of relying only on the established producers," he said.
"A festival should not just be a catwalk for celebrities," he added.
Barbera also emphasised that out of around 50 films that will be shown 20 will be by female directors -- a pointed reference to the last Cannes film festival which was criticised for not including enough women.
One of the innovations at the festival will be that more than a dozen films will be screened online for a fee on the same day as their premiere.
The jury is headed up by US producer Michael Mann and will include Hong Kong director Peter Chan and British actress Samantha Morton.