Marco Mueller Poised to Lead Rome Film Festival as Gian Luigi Rondi Steps Down

 Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

ROME – International Rome Film Festival President Gian Luigi Rondi stepped down Friday, ending weeks of speculation over the fate of the festival and almost surely clearing the way for former Venice Film Festival artistic director Marco Mueller to be appointed as Rome’s artistic director.

The debate over whether Mueller or incumbent artistic director Piera Detassis would be tapped as artistic director waged for nearly two months, since Mueller was ousted from Venice Dec. 27. The 90-year-old Rondi, who was scheduled to remain in his post until June, was Detassis’ biggest ally and he lobbied hard to have her stay on for at least another year.

But his resignation Friday meant that former Warner Bros-Italia head Paolo Ferrari would likely be tapped to take over as president. And Ferrari has made it known that, if named as president, he would plan to appoint Mueller as his artistic director.

“After a few months in which there was almost total inactivity with the festival because of the differences among the institutions that manager it … I decided to sacrifice myself to save the upcoming edition of the festival, which was at risk of not taking place,” Rondi said in a statement.

The next step for the seven-year-old event is to heal the wounds of what was by all counts a contentious battle over the two sides. Mueller had the backing of regional government of Lazio governor Renata Polverini and Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno. But the province of Rome and the Rome Chamber of Commerce both backed Rondi and Detassis. The standoff was so severe that an official vote on the artistic director was delayed three times, and in recent days speculation spread that if he was not selected for the job Mueller might start his own festival in Rome, with backing from Polverini and Alemanno.

Rondi’s move prevented all that, but now Ferrari and Mueller will have to woo Detassis’ backers to avoid losing their support.

Another problem is that weeks of inactivity has put Rome behind schedule in its planning for this year’s edition, though Mueller’s plans to push the festival start date back five weeks to the end of November -- roughly the halfway point between the Venice-Toronto slot on the festival calendar in September and Berlin in February -- also gives organizers extra time to prepare.

Mueller’s plans for Rome reportedly include ramping up the festival’s already well-regarded The Business Street market event as a bridge between Toronto and Berlin in what could amount to a direct challenge to the early November American Film Market in Los Angeles.

The friction between Rome and Venice, the world’s oldest film festival, is likely to heat up again. The Rome festival was inaugurated in 2006 with aspirations of challenging Venice as Italy’s premiere event, but rival cooled in part because of a sometimes tenuous détente between Mueller and Detassis. But now, following Mueller’s unceremonious ouster from Venice and comments from National Film Museum head Alberto Barbera, who replaced Mueller on the Lido, saying it would be “difficult” to work with Rome if Mueller is in charge mean the two events would probably lock horns more often.

Mueller’s plans for an amped up Rome market even could be another source of conflict with Venice, where Barbera was appointed in part to help transform the festival’s modest industry office into a Cannes-style market.

Rondi’s decision to step does not mean he won’t appear in the spotlight, the august dean of Italian film critics is still president of the David di Donatello awards, Italy’s top film awards event.

Though Rondi’s resignation is effective immediately, changes might not start taking place for a couple of weeks, when Ferrari is expected to be officially appointed by the festival’s board, quickly followed by the appointment of Mueller as artistic director.

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