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Italy Elections 2013: Unexpected Drama Arises for Rome Film Festival

Paolo Ferrari Headshot - P 2012
Paolo Ferrari

Nicola Zingaretti is the new Lazio governor, but his appointment of a key festival board slot was blocked by an 11th-hour maneuver.

ROME – In a set of political moves worthy of a silver-screen thriller, an outgoing government official controversially appointed a former lieutenant friendly to the International Rome Film Festival at the last minute, partially blocking the newly-elected successor who has said he wants to force the festival to undergo big changes.

Italians went to the polls Sunday and Monday in a national vote that has so far resulted in a stalemate in the prime minister race, as pre-election favorite Pier Luigi Bersani seeks to cobble together an electoral majority despite finishing only slightly ahead of billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi and comedian, blogger and activist Beppe Grillo.

But the same vote elected Nicola Zingaretti as the governor of the region of Lazio, one of the major stakeholders in the eight-year-old Rome festival. Zingaretti, as head of the provincial government of Rome, tried hard last year to block the appointment of former Warner Bros.-Italia head Paolo Ferrari and ex-Venice Film Festival artistic director Marco Mueller as president and artistic director, respectively, in Rome.

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He failed; Ferrari and Mueller ran their first edition of the festival four months ago. But in January, with most polls indicating he was likely to win the race to become Lazio’s next governor, Zingaretti said that the Rome festival had lost its way and that it should return to its roots as “a popular event with the aim of promoting cinema” rather than as a platform for world and international premieres as Ferrari and Mueller envision it.

“I have kept silent because I do not like controversy, but I think the festival has begun to betray the ideas that created it,” Zingaretti said in a magazine interview last month.

As regional governor, Zingaretti can appoint a member to the festival’s board, work to sway public opinion, and influence the regional government’s financial support of the event.

But his power to appoint a member to the board was stymied just before the vote, when Zingaretti’s predecessor, Renata Polverini, made an 11th-hour appointment of Leonardo Catarci to the festival board. Polverini was a strong backer of Ferrari and Mueller during the contentious battle to determine whether they should replace then-incumbents Gian Luigi Rondi and Piera Detassis, and Catarci’s appointment prevents Zingaretti from naming his own candidate to that post.

Polverini’s move was perfectly legal, but it attracted controversy not just because of its timing on the eve of Zingaretti’s election, but because she actually resigned five months earlier -- she stayed on as the region’s governor only in a caretaker capacity until the election. It appears that the appointment of Catarci may have been her last official move before the election.  

Italian media reported that Catarci’s appointment was likely to be contested by the incoming Zingaretti team, which like to appoint their own board member. Headed toward its second edition under Ferrari and Mueller, Rome festival officials will be watching the process with great interest.