ROME – The International Rome Film Festival’s The Business Street market event kicked off Wednesday, while Walter Hill and Sylvester Stallone on the red carpet pulled the biggest crowds yet at the seventh edition of the event.
Meanwhile, criticisms of the festival from the Italian media continued, with Riccardo Tozzi, a film producer and head of the audiovisual association ANICA, defending artistic director Marco Mueller in an interview with La Repubblica, but saying that his desire to focus the lineup mostly on world premieres was a “perfectionist fixation.”
The Business Street, which will run through Sunday, is based along Rome’s historic Via Veneto in the city’s historic center, around 2 miles from the festival’s base at the Auditorium Parco della Musica.
The festival has not yet released any official attendance figures for The Business Street, but the festival says it hopes its mix of screenings, a digital video library, informal meeting spaces for buyer, sellers, and producers, and other events, combined with a spot on the calendar halfway between the market in Toronto in September and the one in Berlin in February.
Hill, the director, and Stallone, the star, were in Rome in connection with Bullet to the Head, Hill’s latest thriller, which was one of the few films at the festival so far to draw broad interest. The film tells the tale of a hit man who joins forces with a cop to track down the killer who murdered both of their partners.
Hill will also receive the festival’s new Maverick Director award.
The Hollywood Reporter critic Jordan Mintzer called the film a “rock ‘em sock ’em, tongue-in-cheek action thriller [that] wears its B-movie credentials loud and proud.”
Enthusiastic crowds lined the red carpet ahead of the world premiere screening of the thriller, which will open in the U.S. in February. Fans were undeterred by threatening weather, the southern edge of heavy rains responsible for severe floods in Tuscany and Umbria, north of Rome.
The festival has suffered from lower-than-expected ticket sales and media interest, which some attribute to a lack of star power at the festival. The article that quoted Tozzi said the festival should have considered screening some films that premiered elsewhere in order to increase visibility.
But the slow sales are also a reflection of an overall malaise for the cinema sector in Italy, where sales in October were a stunning 41 percent lower than for the same month in 2011.
One piece of positive box office news — albeit for Japan — was revealed Wednesday when the festival announced that Aku No Kyoten (Lesson of the Evil), the thriller from Takashi Miike, was on its way to becoming the most successful box office performance ever for Miike, a cult auteur. The film, which opened the competition lineup upon screening in Rome, grossed $3.7 million in its first two days of release in its home country.