The Venice Film Festival kicked off last night with the premiere of Mira Nair’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Indian-born filmmaker Nair, one of 21 female directors in the main selection – notable after a year when Cannes saw zero in competition – said yesterday she felt she was “put on this earth to tell stories about people like me who live between two worlds.”

Based on the book by Mohsin Hamid, the story follows a young Pakistani man’s rise from Lahore to Princeton to the height of Wall Street success pre-9/11. A brunette Kate Hudson plays lead Riz Ahmed’s love interest. They’re torn apart as Ahmed’s character, Changez, is treated with overt suspicion and brutality by American authorities post-9/11. Disillusioned by the American Dream, he heads back to Lahore and becomes a teacher while local radicals attempt to recruit him. Liev Schreiber plays a journalist/spook who finds an uneasy kinship with Changez while investigating the kidnapping of an American citizen.

Nair won the Golden Lion in 2001 for Monsoon Wedding and a few days later was in Toronto when planes crashed into the World Trade Center. With this film, she said, “I sought to bring some sense of bridge-making between America and the Muslim world that goes beyond myopia and ignorance.” Ahmed, easily the biggest takeaway from the movie, said “Viewers will react differently. I hope the film has respect for its audience.” The actor is known in Britain for films that include Michael Winterbottom’s The Road To Guantanamo and Trishna and the recent drama Ill Manors by English rapper Ben Drew (aka Plan B), but he has yet to break in the States. I’d expect that to change soon. At the opening night dinner, admirers positively swooned around him. Upping the “aw” factor, he mostly spent the evening tending to his date – his mother.

The film had a good reception but it’s out of competition and so not vying for a prize. Italy’s Eagle Pictures picked it up just ahead of the festival and it’s being handled for North America by Hal Sadoff on behalf of the Doha Film Institute which financed and Bart Walker of Cinetic. A deal will likely come during Toronto, “There are no buyers here,” an exec points out. Harvey Weinstein does have his spies making the rounds. He arrives Friday ahead of the Saturday premiere of Paul Thomas Anderson’s hotly-anticipated The Master.

Along with The Master, curiosity is high on Terrence Malick’s To The Wonder which is the big Sunday competition entry. I reported yesterday that several of the original cast members were cut out of the film and, as with all things Malick, mystery surrounds this complex love story that still stars Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Olga Kurylenko and Javier Bardem. It’s also screening in Toronto where a domestic deal is likely to happen for FilmNation.

Another picture getting people hot and bothered here is Ariel Vromen’s The Iceman starring Michael Shannon, Winona Ryder, Chris Evans, Ray Liotta and James Franco. Shannon plays real life killer Richard Kuklinski who’s believed to have murdered more than 250 people over a 30-year span. Nu Image is handling the out of competition pic that officially screens tonight and will make its way to Toronto next week.

The competition will ramp up today with screenings of Kirill Serebrennikov’s Betrayal and Xavier Giannoli’s Superstar. Ramin Bahrani’s At Any Price, which Sony Pictures Classics recently acquired, is tomorrow’s big draw.