Italy's warring film fests at it again

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ROME -- The on-again, off-again war of words between Italy's two most visible film festivals may be heating up once more after the president of the region that hosts the Venice Film Festival blasted the three-year-old RomaCinemaFest for moving its starting date too close to Venice's close.

The two festivals exchanged a series of blows in 2006, Rome's first year. But the dust seemed to settle last year after Rome pushed its start date back five days and the two sides vowed to cooperate when possible.

But when Rome announced that its third edition would open Oct. 2 -- a full 16 days earlier than in 2007 and nearly halving the breathing room between the two fests -- the fire was stoked again. The Venice camp remained silent until Friday, when Veneto regional president Giancarlo Galan called Rome's early October start date "miserable news" and vowed that the regional government would do whatever it could to help Venice keep Rome's threat at bay.

"I can't say what (Rome Mayor and RomaCinemaFest founder Walter) Veltroni was thinking," Galan said. Galan went on to promise "all the backing that the Regional Government of Veneto can offer for initiatives against Rome ... that the president of the Venice Biennale cares to ask for."

Venice officials have been quick to say that the provocative Galan speaks for himself and not for the festival, which will celebrate its 65th edition this year.

Rome officials, meanwhile, said that the change of date had nothing to do with Venice, but the new proximity between the two events puts pressure on Venice during a period of transition. Venice's dates have not yet been announced, but speculation is that as little as three weeks could pass between Venice's closing ceremony and Rome's opening night.

Artistic director Marco Mueller signed on for another four-year mandate last year, but Biennale president David Croff was replaced with lawmaker Paolo Baratta.

Additionally, work is to begin this year on the long-awaited updating of Venice's crumbling Palazzo del Cinema, putting a new strain on the venerable festival's already taxed infrastructure.
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