Can a New York Cinephile Save the Rome Film Festival?

Rome Film Festival - H 2015
Courtesy of Roma Cinema Fest

Meet Antonio Monda, the well-connected NYU professor who has tapped his extensive Rolodex (Wes Anderson, Joel Coen and more A-listers) to add much-needed buzz to the 10th edition of the troubled film event.

This story first appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

As the Rome Film Fest entered its 10th year, it was clear the event needed a jolt of energy. That arrived in February in the form of Antonio Monda, the festival's charismatic new artistic director. The 52-year-old Italy-born NYU film professor and writer has been a fixture in New York arts circles for years thanks to legendary salons at his house and a con­tact list that includes everyone from Terrence Malick (whom Monda interviewed in 2007 in Rome, one of the auteur's few public appearances) to Wes Anderson (who gave Monda a cameo in 2004's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou). Plagued during its first decade with budget cuts, a dearth of talent and competition with other fall festivals, Rome again is branding itself as a festa, or celebration, of cinema. But this year, in addition to screenings of awards-season contenders like fest opener Truth, starring Robert Redford, Monda has brought renewed buzz by organizing 10 auteur "conversations" with the likes of Anderson, Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Julie Taymor and William Friedkin. THR caught up with the first-timer on the eve of the 10th edition to find out how he pulled it off.

Antonio Monda

There is a great lineup of talent this year. Did you have to cash in a lot of favors?

I am a great tormenter. I break the balls of everybody: "Give me the film; give me the film." Of course personal relationships have a role. Of course several of these people trust me and trust what I'm doing, yes. But it's a serious program. They don't come just to come to Rome — they believe in the festival.

What can we expect from Wes Anderson's talk?

He is a dear friend. … This year he will speak about Vittorio De Sica, who is one of his favorite filmmakers. We're friends because he has a house in New York, even though he spends most of his time in Paris. I think we're both eccentrics — he's another true artist. You recognize immediately a Wes Anderson film. I really admire him.

How did the conversation with Terrence Malick come about during the festival's early years?

Terry is an old friend. When he comes to New York, he comes for dinner, and we share a lot of things. Not in terms of talent — I'm not so crazy to say that — but we have a lot of interests in common. It took me two years to convince him to come to Rome. At the beginning he said, "I'll send you an audio tape." Then he said, "I'm coming, but no pictures, no recordings." Even at the very last moment, when we were backstage, he said, "No, no, no — I'm not going out." He's a very shy man — I respect that. I hope maybe next year to do something with him again.

How will you measure the festival's success?

If the movies will be praised by critics and the audience, then it will be a success. This year we don't have one of the three major theaters of the festival, the Teatro Santa Cecilia. We will lose about 20,000 spectators. If I lose less than that, however, then the festival is a winner. I don't want to lose more than that. I want to give back to Rome the joy of the celebration. I want to feel that energy we had the first couple of years.

You had salons at your New York City house for years, with lots of well-known people. What was your favorite moment?

I introduced Philip Roth to Al Pacino, and a few years later The Humbling became a film. I have 20 stories like this, but I'll tell you just this one.