Rome Film Festival: 'Schizophrenic' Event Aims for Balance

Lionsgate
"The Hunger Games: Catching Fire"

After a budget battle, the event returns on Nov. 8 with a new focus: A big "Hunger Games" screening, plus more Italian movies.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Unveiling the programming for this year's Rome Film Festival, artistic director Marco Mueller admitted that the eighth edition will be "contradictory, schizophrenic." That's because the festival still is struggling to find a balance between making a splash on the international scene, where it is overshadowed by the long-established Venice Film Festival, and serving as something of a celebratory cinema party for the citizens of Rome.

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In 2012, former Warner Bros. Italia head Paolo Ferrari stepped into the post of president and Mueller came to Rome after highly successful stints with festivals in Rotterdam, Locarno and Venice. They arrived with guns blazing, boasting that the 2012 event would host 60 world premieres. Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained -- an homage to Italy-made spaghetti Westerns -- was rumored to be coming. But in the end, their efforts earned only lukewarm reviews: Django wasn't ready in time, and most of those world premieres, some of which were booed, failed to impress.

A contentious budget battle followed. Before stakeholders -- which include the city of Rome, the Lazio regional government and the Rome Chamber of Commerce -- approved this year's $15.2 million budget, the festival heads promised to spend less time chasing world premieres and focus more on Italian productions while also mounting an event that served the public in the hope of growing ticket revenue, which amounted to only $276,000 in 2012.

Even though they won guarantees of support, regional government head Nicola Zingaretti and Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino, who both pushed hard to force the event to return to its roots as a local cinema celebration, conspicuously skipped the festival's lineup announcement in mid-October.

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Mueller and other officials now are careful to refer to the event as a "fest-festival," and Ferrari said the uncertainty hurt preparations for this year's event: "Until the beginning of summer, we did not know what [the new political figures] wanted from us," he says.

While fest organizers aren't trumpeting the exact number of world premieres set to unspool, the schedule does include the debut of Marc Turtletaub's Gods Behaving Badly, Isabel Coixet's Another Me and Jonathan Demme's Fear of Falling.

The festival -- which hosted the world premiere of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn -- Part 2 in 2012 -- also has at least one blockbuster on tap. It has scheduled The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which will screen out of competition three days after its world premiere in London and eight days before its Nov. 22 bow in the U.S.

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Will the adjustments the festival is making quiet its critics? Says veteran film journalist Paolo Mereghetti, "This year is an essential proving point for the festival in its evolution."

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