Venice's film festival pays tribute to spaghetti westerns this year by screening more than 30 films celebrating the interpretation of a quintessentially American genre by Italian directors 40 years ago.

Westerns, old and new, are an important theme at the 64th edition of the festival which opened on Wednesday.

A film with Brad Pitt as Jesse James and Takashi Miike's remake of Django are vying for the top Golden Lion award while works by U.S. directors John Ford and Budd Boetticher feature in special sidebar events.

Also presented at the festival is the restored version of Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars -- the 1964, low-budget classic which became a worldwide hit and started the spaghetti western cycle.

The first of Leone's so-called Dollar Trilogy is credited with reinventing a genre and breaking new ground at a time when traditional U.S. westerns starring the likes of John Wayne were losing their allure.

The film, inspired by a samurai tale by Japan's Akira Kurosawa, had the main ingredients that made spaghetti westerns a big box office success -- a new level of violence and moral darkness.

It turned a poncho-clad Clint Eastwood, until then a little-known TV actor, into an international star and helped influence generations of film-makers both in and outside the United States.

Without spaghetti westerns, a large part of Italian cinema would not exist. And Hollywood would not be the same, said U.S. director Quentin Tarantino, who is hosting the festival's section devoted to the genre.

Leone and other authors of the genre, like Sergio Corbucci, did something extraordinary: they killed the old western and at the same time they brought it back to life, he said at a recent presentation.


Eastwood's unshaved face, icy blue eyes and cheroot-chewing became the symbol of the spaghetti western.

In A Fistful of Dollars he is a trigger-happy cowboy who rides into the middle of a town feud, playing two rival families off against each other and hiring his gun out to the highest bidder.

The restoration is a return to the film's original version, complete with opening credits showing the English pseudonyms the non-American cast and crew picked to disguise the true roots of the movie, shot in Italy and Spain.

Leone, who directed a cast of Italians, Germans, Spaniards and only one American -- Eastwood -- is credited as Bob Robertson.

The restored print, which took two years to complete at a cost of 270,000 euros ($367,000), also reintegrates a scene that was lost over the years -- a close-up of Eastwood watching his friend being beaten up at the saloon.

It reproduces the original colors and the quality of the famous soundtrack by Italian composer Ennio Morricone who started his long partnership with Leone with this film.

Besides Leone's film, 32 titles, mostly from lesser-known Italian film-makers, will screen in Venice.