Rome Fest's Mueller Says He Wouldn't Pay to Bring Stars to Event

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ROME – International Rome Film Festival’s first-year artistic director Marco Mueller said the event lacks big name stars in this edition because he refused to pay the high fees to bring them to the festival, and said that he was approved as artistic director too late to attract some of the films he had on his radar screen.

Mueller, who had a successful eight-year stint at the Venice Film Festival, was rumored as a likely candidate to lead the Rome festival very soon after his Dec. 27, 2011 ouster from the world’s oldest film festival. But he was not officially approved by the festival’s board until May, after a long and contentious battle between his advocates and those of then-incumbent Piera Detassis.

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The seven-year-old festival announced its lineup Oct. 10, with high expectations for a program rumored to include Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Stephen Spielberg’s Lincoln, Life of Pi from Ang Lee, and Johnnie To’s Du zhan (Drug War). In the end, none of those films will screen at the Rome festival, though it still appears likely Django Unchained could have some connection with the Italian capital when it premieres, though most likely after the end of the Nov. 9-17 festival. Overall, the lineup, which will include two yet-to-be-named in-competition films, is heavy on first and second works from new directors.

The lineup is not without some big name films, however. Dreamworks’ animated adventure story Rise of the Guardians, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III from Roman Coppola, and Walter Hill’s Bullet to the Head will all premiere at the festival.

But despite collected casts that include Hugh Jackson, Jude Law, and Alec Baldwin (whose voices are used in Rise of the Guardians), Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson (in The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2), and Bill Murray, Charlie Sheen, and Jason Schwartzman (in A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III), Bullet to the Head star Sylvester Stallone is so far the biggest star officially confirmed to appear on Rome’s red carpet.

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In a wide-ranging interview with Il Messaggero journalist Gloria Satta, Mueller said that in the past the festival spent as much as $393,000 to bring big stars to the festival, but that in tough economic times that was an expense he refused to back. He said future Rome festivals would do better: “The stars will come to Rome, an infinite number. Everyone will see.”

Asked why he failed to bring high profile films like Spielberg’s Lincoln and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi to the festival, Mueller said: “Do you think we didn’t think about it? I just arrived too late, when those films were already promised to other destinations. Considering we started working in June, we pulled off a miracle.”

Mueller also said this year would be a “test” that would set the stage for future Rome festivals. A controversial move to push the festival’s dates back from October, as they were in the previous six editions, to November this year and going forward did not yield the dividends of big Hollywood premieres destined for holiday releases as speculated -- at least this year.

But Mueller said he was undeterred, noting that four major studios (Dreamworks, Paramount, Warner Bros., and Buena Vista) brought films to the festival, seen as a positive sign for future editions of the event.

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