More festivals not necessarily better for Italy

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For film industry players working in Italy, the calendar is becoming more crowded every year.

Last year's launch of the high-profile RomaCinemaFest is the most visible addition in the steady growth of the number of film festivals sprouting up across the boot-shaped peninsula. In addition to such well-established events as the venerable Venice Film Festival and resurgent rivals in Turin and Taormina, filmmakers can focus on dozens of others, including the Far East Film Festival in Udine, the European Film Festival in Lecce, the Milano Film Festival, the Pesaro New Film Festival, the Salento Fear Fest and the Potenza International Film Festival — none of which existed a dozen years ago.

The growth in Italy is part of a worldwide boom, but the trend is more pronounced in Italy than elsewhere.

"It's gotten to the point that before I can make a trip somewhere with my family, I have to make sure the dates we pick won't mean that I'll miss a festival somewhere in Italy," said one former Italian film festival official now working with the government.

Tullio Kezich, a Corriere della Sera film critic who began covering Italian film festivals with Venice in 1946, said that he counted 21 film festivals in Italy between August-October last year.

He said it's not clear whether the growth of festivals is a good thing or not.

"On the one hand, they are making these festivals because there is a demand, and if nothing else, the quantity of festivals shows that people want to go to them," Kezich said. "But on the other hand, you only have so many films of good quality, and so after a certain point festivals are forced to lower the bar a little in order to fill out their schedule. I don't think there is a problem with limits to the attention of the media or the public — but enough good films, that may be a problem."

Kezich said that the competitive nature of most festivals limits them because each director wants to screen as many high-profile, important films as possible.

"If each festival was not trying to get big-name films, then there would be no issue," Kezich said. "I don't think most people would care if a film that was seen by a thousand people in Venice also screened in Rome, for example. But it's a point of pride for festival directors."

According to some players outside Italy, the increasingly crowded calendar could start causing problems.

"The various Italian festivals are definitely cannibalizing each other," said Dirk Schurhoff, head of the German sales group Beta Cinema. "There is a real question whether we need so many big festivals in Italy and — with Rome and Venice — so close together."

Most Italy-based industry insiders declined to speak about the subject on the record, but, privately, the consensus is that at some point the rise in the number and scope of festivals in Italy will slow and some might be forced to close, merge or scale back.

Frederic Maire, the second-year artistic director with the Locarno Film Festival — located just across the border from Italy in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland — did not predict what would happen in Italy. But he did say that there was little doubt that the Italian festival scene is in a state of rapid change.

"Last year, the landscape changed because of the RomaCinemaFest, and this year it is changing because of the new direction in Turin because of (film director and new festival chief) Nanni Moretti," Maire said. "Next year, it may be Venice (the mandate of artistic director Marco Mueller expires this year). It will be interesting to watch how this all develops."

Scott Roxborough contributed to this report.
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