Fest success good news for the last paparazzo

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Rino Barillari delights in being called a "paparazzo."

Roughly translated from the Italian word for "pest," and immortalized as the name of the irritating gossip-rag photographer in Federico Fellini's 1960 classic "La Dolce Vita," the word has long held a negative connotation.

But the 63-year-old Barillari scoffs at that notion. His business cards have the words "The King of Paparazzi" splashed across them in red ink, and as perhaps the last paparazzo working in Rome since before Fellini called attention to the profession, Barillari says that he is an unofficial elder statesman among celebrity photographers.

"These days everyone thinks they're a photographer, but it takes more than a camera and some good luck to be a paparazzo," he says. "I'm one of the last ones left who remembers the old way of doing things."

He says the world has changed since the "Dolce Vita" era of the late 1950s and 1960s. The proliferation of digital cameras and photo-capable cellular phones means there are potential rivals in every crowd, Barillari says, and the demands of stars today means few have the time to relax in any one city, making it hard to capture their images any place besides a press conference or on a movie set.

Then there's the age-old problem of celebrities who don't want to have their photo taken. Barillari says he's been chased, insulted, punched, pelted, run over and, all told, sent to the hospital an astonishing 173 times from attacks by unwilling subjects in a career that dates to 1958, when he started snapping photos as a young teenager.

But despite all the disadvantages, Barillari says he is undeterred. "This is what I do, and after so many years, I still love it," he says. "What's not to love? I'm in the middle of it all."

The launch of the RomaCinemaFest last year has led some nostalgic Romans to wonder if the "Dolce Vita" years might rise again, and that the city's best hotels, restaurants and clubs might again host a slew of camera-shy screen stars.

To be sure, the festival's first two editions have attracted scores of established top-name stars, including many who are familiar subjects to Barillari's lens, including Robert DeNiro, Martin Scorsese, Sean Connery and Harrison Ford in 2006, and Sophia Loren, Robert Redford, Francis Ford Coppola, Tom Cruise, Bernardo Bertolucci and Gerard Depardieu this year.

As to whether or not the Rome fest's star-studded invitee list will spark a return of the city's famous and infamous "Dolce Vita" era, it is a question Barillari considers carefully -- but only for a moment.

"No," he decides. "Those days are gone. Things have moved on. But who's to say that in some ways what we have now isn't even better than what there was before? I'm just as busy and as happy as ever."


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