Mixed reviews for Rome fest market

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ROME -- It will take weeks or months to determine whether the RomaCinemaFest's unusual version of a market can be called a success. Early reviews from buyers and sellers are mixed.

Called "The Business Street," the first-year festival struck agreements with a series of posh hotels on or near the city's famous Via Veneto to act as stations in an informal meeting place for deals to be struck.

The Business Street lacked most of the infrastructure, support staff, and stands that are characteristic of traditional stand-alone markets like AFM or those attached to festivals as in Cannes, Berlin, or Toronto. But it did offer screening rooms and a place for those looking to strike a deal to meet, unlike other festivals, such as Venice. RomaCinemaFest co-director Teresa Cavina calls it "market lite."

On the record, most of the estimated 400 buyers and producers on hand -- many of whom were flown in at the festival's expense -- were measured and generally positive in their assessment of the initiative. But privately, views were decidedly mixed.

Most applauded the state-of-the-art screening rooms and the lush accommodations for the quasi market, which was housed in some of the city's finest hotels. But many complained that there were relatively few unknown films being screened, not enough new films being shopped around, and a lack of a centralized location as in full-fledged markets.

"A lot of people are here and so it's always good to have a chance to see people and shake hands and chat," one Italy-based international buyer said in an interview. "But if I came here looking to buy a lot of films I couldn't do it. There's not much out there."

One longtime producer familiar with the Italian market agreed: "It's like I'm on vacation in a beautiful hotel and a lot of my colleagues happen to be around. But there's not a lot of work getting done."

Sandwiched between the increasingly important market at the Toronto Film Festival and the American Film Market in Los Angeles in November, RomaCinemaFest officials have stressed that they have no desire to create a sophisticated working market in the Italian capital with the Oct. 14-16 event, which it calls a "reality of support, interest and collaboration."

Organizers acknowledge that the form they chose to give the Business Street was unusual and even experimental, and they have invited participants to offer suggestions about how next year's edition could be improved. But as the three-day event wound down, many participants said they were unsure what they would suggest and some said the jury was still out on whether they'd return next year.

"It's an unusual formula that's being used here," one buyer quipped. "I don't think we'll know whether its successful or not until later this year when there are deals that are signed or not and whether or not people look back and say 'We first started talking about that back in Rome.' "
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