Moretti's Turin a marquee event

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TURIN, Italy -- A surge in local interest and the accompanying long lines at the ticket counter are giving organizers of the 25th annual Turin Film Festival something to cheer about.

Ticket sales over the festival's first three days are up 50% in euro terms from the same period last year, the festival reported Monday, and the unexpectedly strong attendance figures have helped to distract attention from Turin's feud with the two-year-old RomaCinemaFest.

Turin's first-year artistic director Nanni Moretti fanned those flames this month when he blasted Rome's decision to hold its deep-pocketed festival so close to Turin's dates -- it concluded just a month before Turin opened -- briefly sparking a war of words with organizers from the Rome event.

On Monday, in one of his few public appearances since the festival began, the auteur-turned-artistic director was unable to escape the topic.

Moretti held a 20-minute closed-door meeting with Italian Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli, and the two emerged to questions from reporters about whether the issue of the two festivals' proximity -- along with that of the venerable Venice Film Festival -- had been discussed.

Rutelli deflected the issue, instead praising Turin as a festival "full of youth, energy and innovation," before pausing briefly for photographs.

Moretti tried to follow suit, saying that the conversation with Rutelli "did not examine problems, it examined what should be done." But the local journalists pressed, inducing an exasperated Moretti to say, "You know what I think about this. ... I said it once, and there is no need to repeat myself."

The Moretti and Rutelli show came before a briefing from Cinecitta Holding. The briefing was held to present new publication "The Italian Cinema Market," which makes the case that the Italian cinema industry is nearly as healthy as Turin's attendance figures.

The book, which focuses on trends between 2000 and 2006, shows that attendance figures rose for the second consecutive year in 2006; Italy's share of the local boxoffice has increased on a yearly basis; and the number of Italian productions as well as their budgets are on the rise.

Italian films also are doing well by European standards, with three Italian films among Europe's top 25 grossing releases last year. Carlo Verdone's "Il Mio Miglior Nemico" (My Best Enemy) was the top Italian film on the French- and German-dominated list at No. 10, just ahead of Stephen Frears' Oscar winner "The Queen."

Attendance figures out of Turin were even stronger, with organizers reporting that over the festival's first three days -- Friday through Sunday -- ticket sales totaled 66,095 euros ($97,160), a leap of 50.6% compared with last year's 43,863 euros ($64,479) over the same period.

The information was released as lines began to form for the most popular films as much as 90 minutes before their screenings. Interest appeared to remain strong Monday -- even though many potential viewers had to return to school or work -- with at least a dozen screenings reportedly turning people away at the door.

Among the program highlights Monday were Sarah Polley's competition drama "Away From Her" and "The Tracey Fragments" from Bruce McDonald, which screened out of competition.
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