Half way though the festival and Venice appears to be riunning out of steam as many of the films on show have failed to ignite excitement amongst audiences and critics.

The writer's strike is being blamed for the lack luster line-up which is famous for kicking off the award season as well as highlighting movies that tend to do well when the gongs start to get handed out, while other are simply suggesting that 2008 is a bad year for film.

However one movie is leading the way in the race for the Golden lion, which has gone to an Asian director for the last three years, is Japaneseanimation master Hayao Miyazaki's Ponyo on the Cliff, his adaptation of The Little Mermaid.

The film follows a five year old boy named Souske and his relationship with a goldfish princess named Ponyo who longs to become human.

A second Japanese picture, Achilles and the Tortoise is also proving to be popular with the critics. The film, which is directed by Takeshi Kitano, follows Machisu who is born into a wealthy family but loses his parents as a childand decides to follow his dremas of being a painter.

With festivals come a certain amount of star power, Cannes had dancing pandas with Jack Black and Angelina Jolie as well as the cast of Indiana Jones for the world premiere of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and Hollywood royalty has been notably absent in Venice.

After the opening night excitment of George Clooney and Brad Pitt, who were in town for the screening of their Out of Competition picture Burn After Reading, the red carpet has been unusually quiet.

However Oscar winner Charlize Theron did step in front of the cmeras for the screening of her new film The Burning Plain.

The movie is the directorial debut for Mexican screenwriter Guillermo Arriaga has so far split the critics. Despite this Theron and co-star Kim Basinger have recieved praise for their roles and The Burning Plain could challenge Ponyo on the Cliff for the top prize.

Despite American movies The Wrestler by Darren Aronofsky and starring Mickey Rourke and Rachel Getting Married with Anne Hathaway still to come it's looking ever more likely that the Toronto Film Festival, which kicks off on Thursday 4th, will have an easier than usual act to follow.

FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw