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ROME – The stakeholders for the International Rome Film Festival are expected Friday to formally vote to approve Marco Mueller as the event’s artistic director, officially ending months of rancorous debate and launching the 7-year-old event on a new era in its history.
Many close to the festival say the appointment of Mueller — who had two highly successful four-year mandates as artistic director of the venerable Venice Film Festival following stints in Locarno and Rotterdam — will help raise Rome’s profile. But the appointment did not come without problems.
Reportedly offended by strong criticisms of the Rome festival while he was at Venice, some festival stakeholders wanted to spurn Mueller’s candidacy in favor of retaining well-regarded incumbent Piera Detassis and then-president Gian Luigi Rondi. The sides remained split for weeks until Rondi, who wanted Detassis retained, stepped down Feb. 24.
Former Warner Bros. Italia head Paolo Ferrari was appointed to fill Rondi’s shoes, setting the table for Mueller’s appointment. But even then, things did not go smoothly: The appointment was scheduled to take place Monday but was delayed until Friday. Festival officials said the delay was because of “purely procedural” reasons, but the postponement coincided with stories appearing in the Italian media over new controversies about Mueller’s reported salary demands of €1.5 million ($1.95 million) over three years. Ferrari and festival officials strongly denied those reports.
If Mueller’s appointment indeed comes off as expected, it will for the first time in this process focus attention on the future of the festival rather than on the political infighting that has characterized it so far.
One of the first decisions to be made involves the festival’s dates. The event is currently scheduled to take place Oct. 18-16. Mueller has said he would like to push the dates back five weeks to occupy a strategic place on the calendar halfway between the end of September’s Toronto International Film Festival and the Berlin Film Festival in February. Trouble is, that slot would directly clash with the Nov. 25-Dec. 3 Turin Film Festival, which has said it is too late for it to change its dates this year.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, who supported Mueller’s candidacy, said the date shift would have to wait until 2013, and upon his appointment, Ferrari agreed that no change would be made this year. But people close to Mueller say the possibility of a date change still exists.
Other issues to be tackled quickly involve changes to the festival’s format. There is speculation that Rome could unveil a sidebar exclusively for Italian productions to replace the Contracampo Italiano sidebar from Venice that was eliminated as part of a streamlining process by Mueller’s replacement there, National Film Museum president Alberto Barbera.
Additional speculation is that the festival could branch out beyond its traditional home at the Auditorium Parco della Musica venue in northern Rome to include more events in other parts of the city — and perhaps satellite events tied to the festival during other points on the calendar.
There are also plans to beef up Rome’s The Business Street market event, one of the festival’s strengths in recent years. Mueller has strong ties to Asia, and reports are that The Business Street could evolve to have a more Asian flavor in the coming years.
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