Surrounded by tightened security measures, the 2016 Venice Film Festival kicked off here on Wednesday amid high expectations of a top quality event.
Some 43 countries overall were participating in this 73rd edition, with 20 movies playing in the main competition, some 11 films and eight documentaries out of competition, and 19 movies in the "Horizons" section devoted to new cinema trends.
The festival will run on Venice Lido until Sept. 10, and opened with a premiere of musical "La La Land" by Damien Chazelle, starring Emma Stone and Ryan Goslin.
The 31-year-old Award-nominated director of Whiplash this time put on screen an intense story of love and dreams between a jazz pianist (Goslin) and an aspiring actress (Stone) set in contemporary Los Angeles, yet openly hinting to classical Hollywood musicals.
After a preview very well received by the press, "La La Land" was screened after the opening ceremony on Wednesday evening.
"We need hope and romance on the screen, now more than ever," Chazelle explained a press conference earlier on Wednesday.
"There is something about musical that just gets at what only movies can do," the American director added. "That idea of movies as a dreamland, as the language of our dreams, and as a way of expressing a world in which emotions can break the rules of reality."
Many here at the festival wondered if this year's opening premiere would again lead to major recognition overseas.
Indeed, Venice brought luck to the opening movies in its three previous editions: "Spotlight" and "Birdman", after premiering here in 2015 and 2014 respectively, were both awarded the best picture Oscar, while space-drama "Gravity" had won seven Academy awards the year before.
Yet, the rich line-up of this 73rd Venice Fest included several outstanding auteurs and movies stars, which might as well be seen as possible contenders of the Golden Lion.
That would be the case, for example, of domestic drama "The Light Between Oceans" by American director Derek Cianfrance, filmed in a remote lighthouse and starring actor Michael Fassbender.
There was also Tom Ford's thriller "Nocturnal Animals" with Amy Adams starring as a woman who receives the manuscript of a new, troubling novel from her ex-husband.
This will be Ford's second film after "A Single Man" which premiered at Venice in 2009.
Other major contenders would include: Chilean Pablo Larrain's "Jackie", a biographical drama with Natalie Portman starring as Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy in the days immediately after the killing of the U.S. president, and American Terrence Malick's documentary on the universe "Voyage of Time."
Also seen as strong competitors were "Frantz", a drama by French Francois Ozon set in the aftermath of World War II, "The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez" by German Wim Wenders, and "On The Milky Road" by Serbian Emir Kusturica.
Three Italian films were playing in the official contest: movies "Questi Giorni" (These days) by Giuseppe Piccioni and "Piuma" (Feather) by Anglo-Italian director Roan Johnson, and documentary "Spira mirabilis" by Massimo D'Anolfi and Martina Parenti.
At the official opening ceremony, festival director Alberto Barbera awarded Polish director Jerzy Skolimowski with the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, for "the extraordinary movies he realized throughout his life."
Barbera and Paolo Baratta, head of Biennale di Venezia organizing the festival, also officially presented the jury panels to the press earlier in the day.
British director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, James Bond) will be chairing a main jury of nine awarding the Golden Lion, the Silver Lion, and other key prizes.
His fellow judges included Chinese actress and director Zhao Wei, Italian screenwriter Giancarlo De Cataldo, French-Italian actress Chiara Mastroianni, British-American director Joshua Oppenheimer, and English actress Gemma Arterton.
Meanwhile, tightened anti-terror security measures were visible all around the festival.
The festival director acknowledged such measures were necessary, after the terrorist attacks that hit Europe this year. Yet, Barbera stressed security checks were as much as possible limited to the inner village hosting the event in order not to disturb audience and professionals.
As announced, the traditional gala dinner scheduled for Wednesday evening on the Lido beachside was cancelled as a sign of respect towards the over 290 victims of a major earthquake that struck central Italy on Aug. 24.