'Victim' champ at Roma

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A Russian drama about a young man with an unusual plan to cheat death was given the top prize at the first RomaCinemaFest, and Robert De Niro arrived to cement the relationship between the Italian event and the 5-year-old Tribeca Film Festival he helped found.

The winner of the first Marcus Aurelius prize — "Izobrajaya Zhertvy" (Playing the Victim), the third film from director Kirill Serebrennikov — tells the story of a young man who lobbies the police to hire him to play the victim in murder reconstructions as part of an elaborate plan to cheat his own death. The film is based on a play by Russia's Presnyakov brothers.

In exploring the disillusionment of its young protagonist, "Victim" shares a trait with Shane Meadows' "This Is England," which is about a young adolescent who befriends a group of North London skinheads. "England" was awarded a special jury prize for excellence.

"Neither of these two beautiful films is commercial, but it is our hope that both will reach a wide audience," said veteran Italian director Ettore Scola, the head of the 50-person citizen's jury made up of regular moviegoers.

Italian actor Giorgio Colangeli was selected as the best male actor for his starring role as a jailed murderer in "L'Aria Salata" (The Salty Air), and "Armenia" star Ariane Ascaride won the award for best actress.

Despite all the awards of the festival's final day, De Niro caused the most buzz Saturday, discussing short clips from three of his best-known films and screening a 10-minute preview of his upcoming drama "The Good Shepherd," which is set for U.S. release in December. He answered questions from journalists and fans for an hour before leaving for a dinner co-hosted by Rome and Tribeca. Before the dinner, De Niro said the two events were like "brothers."

Tribeca officials on hand said the major winners at Rome would screen in a special section at the next Tribeca festival in May.

On Friday, Harrison Ford presented agent Jim Berkus with a special award for agents and managers named for Patricia McQueeney, Ford's longtime agent who died last year at age 77. Berkus is the president and founder of UTA.

Ford chaired a four-person committee that selected Berkus, and the actor noted that he would continue to be involved in selecting the winner of the prize that organizers said would become a staple of the RomaCinemaFest.

"This award is very special to me because it is named in the honor of someone I loved and respected," Ford said.

Berkus said he was honored to be the recipient of the Bulgari-designed prize but that he preferred working in the background rather than with camera bulbs popping.

"I told Harrison beforehand that I couldn't think about that part of it or I'd go crazy," Berkus said. "But it's a great honor named for one of the giants in our field. Needless to say, I'm very pleased."

Ford's arrival was one of the highlights of Friday. But Sacha Baron Cohen's satire "Borat" also caused a buzz.

The film, which was made under protest from the government of Kazakhstan for the way the country is portrayed, presents Cohen as a hapless Kazakhstani journalist making a documentary about traveling in the U.S. It premiered Friday to enthusiastic crowds of viewers, while a small crowd gathered outside the screening to protest its characterization of Jews.

Festival organizers declared the nine-day event a "popular success," noting that 56,000 tickets were sold — beforehand, organizers said more than 50,000 tickets would exceed expectations — for 650 screenings on 23 screens. A total of 169 long and short films and documentaries screened from 32 countries, including 52 from the U.S., 48 from Italy and 28 from France.
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