Q&A: Gianni Alemanno

6:00 PM PST 10/20/2008 by Eric J. Lyman, AP

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Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno is best known outside Italy as the man who cast the future of the Rome International Film Festival in doubt. In his face-off with former mayor Francesco Rutelli, Alemanno, a blunt-speaking former neo-fascist, attacked Rutelli's ties to fest founder Walter Veltroni, running ads that juxtaposed the capital's deteriorating infrastructure with scenes of the festival's high-profile red carpet. After Alemanno's stunning upset, festival supporters worried that the city might pull its funding. In the end, the city's level of support remained unchanged. And aside from seeing festival president and Veltroni ally Goffredo Bettini step down in favor of former Venice artistic director Gian Luigi Rondi, the event -- which opens Wednesday -- is more or less unchanged. Alemanno recently sat down with The Hollywood Reporter Italy correspondent Eric J. Lyman to discuss his views on the festival, Rome's role in the cinema industry and a few of his favorite films.

The Hollywood Reporter: You started out as a strong critic of the Rome film festival, but now you seem to be a supporter. You spoke at the conference where the festival announced its lineup, and you're providing the same level of support from the city that the festival had for the previous edition. What changed?

Gianni Alemanno: Some of the things that were attributed to me were things I never said. I never said the festival should be closed. I never said it shouldn't exist. I do think it should reflect the city that hosts it, and I do think the city should get more for the money it puts in. I think those changes are happening. But we're not making changes just for the sake of change.

THR: Much of the work for the 2008 festival was done before you came into office. But what sort of changes can we expect for 2009 and beyond?

Alemanno: The kind of changes I would like to see implemented at the film festival are similar to what I would like to do with the city as a whole. I want to peel back the various layers of bureaucracy. But my control over the event is more limited than a lot of people think. In any case, I don't think the festival is going to transform itself into something unrecognizable. It's a good event.

THR: One of the first changes made was naming Gian Luigi Rondi as the festival's new president. Rondi is such a well-respected figure that the benefits of that move are obvious. But he's also 86 years old. Did you ever think that he might lack the energy for the task of heading a new and vibrant festival?

Alemanno: It's true that he's 86 years old, but he has the energy of someone 30 years younger. He's like Rome, an old city with a young city's energy.

THR: What about Rome as a film set? Dozens of movies have been set in the city, but many producers complain that the process of getting the necessary permits is tough. When "Angels & Demons" filmed in Italy, they had to leave Rome because they couldn't get permission to film in certain spots.

Alemanno: Well, first of all, Rome had nothing to do with the problems "Angels & Demons" had. Those problems came from the Vatican, and we can't do anything about that since it's a separate entity. But the point is still valid, as it is hard to get the correct permits here. I think that will become easier when there's less bureaucracy, though I'm not convinced about film funding. Instead of paying people to make films here, I think they should pay us. But Rome is one of the cities in the world that is a natural film set and I hope it will remain that way.

THR: Will there be any ideological test for the films that will get the permissions they need?

Alemanno: (Laughs) No, no, no. I'm no film critic. There has to be artistic freedom. I don't want to get involved in that.

THR: What sort of films do you enjoy? What are some of the films you recall from your youth?

Alemanno: There were many. I can't remember the first film I ever saw, but I do remember that "2001: A Space Odyssey" had a big impact on me. I saw it in the cinema when it first came out, and several times since then. I still enjoy well-made fantasy films, especially when there's a mystical quality to them. Among Italian films, I always enjoyed Federico Fellini. It's a bit of a cliche, but "La Dolce Vita" is one of the quintessential films about Rome.

THR: What about your reputation of being anti-Hollywood? A great many articles have been published saying you would like to limit the presence of Hollywood at the Rome film festival. Is there truth to that?

Alemanno: You can't eliminate Hollywood, even if you wanted to. Besides, for an Italian of my generation, there's a certain love of Hollywood. I came of age watching Hollywood films. As for the festival, you need those films because they bring attention to the festival. I don't think they should come at the expense of Italian film, though. But there's no reason they can't both have their space.
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