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ROME – The latest edition of the International Rome Film Festival got underway Friday with a gala opening ceremony, well-attended world premiere screenings of Bakhtiar Khudojnazarov’s epic V Ožidanii Morja (Waiting for the Sea) and Centro Histórico (Historic Center), and more bickering in the local media.
The leadup to the seventh edition of the festival — the first under former Venice Film Festival chief Marco Mueller — has until now been highlighted as much as anything by a hot-and-cold reception from local media. On Friday, news reports were split between those who praised Mueller for raising the profile of the event and others who said the event was too expensive given Italy’s economic malaise.
Earlier in the week, reports circulated that ticket sales were down by half compared to 2011, though the festival had not yet released any information on the topic. On Friday, first year festival President Paolo Ferrari, the former head of Warner Bros.-Italia, addressed the issue, conceding that sales were around 15 percent behind the pace of 2011, but that, in contrast, media requests were up by nearly a third.
“It’s fair to say that overall interest is higher than it has been in the past,” Ferrari said.
The lower ticket sales compared to last year comes amid reports that overall cinema receipts for the country as a whole have eroded dramatically in recent weeks.
Ferrari spoke at a briefing in which he and Mueller introduced the members of two of the festival’s juries: the main competition jury, headed by rising star film director Jeff Nichols, and the jury for the all-Italian Perspective Italy sidebar, headed by Francesco Bruni, who won the equivalent section a year ago in Venice, when Mueller headed the festival there.
An interesting trend among the seven-person main competition jury is that several — including Nichols, the jury president — admitted they had never been on a festival jury before this.
“In a way, this is a dubious honor for me because I have long considered festival awards to be a scourge,” said Australian director P.J. Hogan, a jury member. “If you make films in order to win awards then you’ve already lost. And yet here I sit for the first time on a jury that will decide which films deserve to be awarded.”
The jury is expected to hand out eight prizes among the 15 competition films, including Best Film, Best Director, a Jury Prize and two acting awards. But Hogan’s comments sparked a hearty laugh from Mueller, who suggested that jury members use their inexperience in their current capacity as jurors an impetus to look for ways to honor more films.
“Sometimes there’s a clever way to bend the rules and honor more films if they deserve it,” Mueller said.
The highlight of the day was the evening ceremony hosted by by Italian actress Claudia Pandolfi and the screenings of Khudojnazarov’s V Ožidanii Morja and Centro Histórico, a tribute to the historical Portuguese city of Guimarães split into four parts and directed, respectively, by Aki Kaurismäki, Pedro Costa, Victor Erice, and Manoel de Oliviera.
De Oliviera, who is 103 years old, did not make the trip to the festival, but there other three directors were in Rome, where they participated in a light hearted discussion that included admissions that none of them had seen the other’s contribution to the film before the festival premiere. The film was the opener for the CinemaXXI sidebar.
V Ožidanii Morja, which screened out of competition, is an epic fantasy about a man who struggles after the sea he worked on and grew up with disappeared, taking his wife with it. The film is the second part of a trilogy for Khudojnazarov, who is best known from his 1999 comedy Luna Papa, the first part of the trilogy.
The Hollywood Reporter critic Deborah Young called the film a “slow-moving … [and] surreal Fitzcarraldo fantasy transplated to Central Asia.”
Khudojnazarov said the V Ožidanii Morja project had been in the works for a decade, with work starting six years ago, and was noteworthy because of its fantasty storyline, the roles of stars Egor Beroev and Anastasia Mikulchina (it was the big screen debut for Mikulchina, a model), both big names in Russia, and because it was filmed in 110-degree heat in Kazakistan. “Nobody who participated in this project will ever forget it,” he said.
The festival concludes Nov. 17.
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