The Rome Film Festival ended Sunday night after its rebranding as a celebration of cinema, focusing on audience awards that put the spotlight on the public, a concept modeled after Toronto. The idea was to influence distributors by using the Roman public as a testing ground for greater Europe.
The festival had many wins, including gala appearances from Benicio Del Toro, Richard Gere and Kevin Costner. Business Street, the festival’s market, had a 30 percent increase in the number of international participants, a 35 percent increase in buyers, and a 14 percent increase in world sales agents, with many key industry players being flown in for the occasion.
But there were also many misses, such as a 20-minute Zegna commercial that was billed as a Park Chan-wook short film in collaboration with the fashion house. Or the fact that the festival failed to attract talent from many of the top-billed films such as Gone Girl, Still Alice, and Nightcrawler.
The public voting system relied on audience turnout, but the numbers didn’t turn out as expected. Italian media has reported that spectators have dropped drastically this year. The festival announced 80,000 admissions this year, including audience tickets and accreditations. Previous years admissions have reached up to 130,000 with 2011 selling 123,000 and 2010 seeing 118,000 admissions. The festival declined releasing admissions numbers last year.
The festival has responded that as this year’s CineMAXXI events and screenings were not ticketed, offering free admission to all, as opposed to last year’s ticketed events, the numbers can’t be compared. Moreover, they say both years had an estimated 150,000 people in and around Cinema Village, drawing people toward the festival space and red carpet. But this number has also fallen drastically from the festival’s reported 600,000 in peak years.
Director Marco Mueller has not had an easy job over the last three years he’s run the festival. Each year he’s been given different orders for how to fix the fledging festival, often forcing him to scramble at the last minute to put together a standout lineup. This year he was working with a budget about one-third of what the festival launched with. His contract is up and he’s not coming back.
“The Rome Film Festival has been an experience that I can only consider over, since my contract was for three years. I did my best each time to try to adapt to the directions I received,” said Mueller at the festival close. “I learned a lot in these three years.”
The festival veteran says he’s going to take what he’s learned over the years and focus more on his academic career. Mueller has been a professor holding the Chair of Film Styles and Techniques at Mario Botta’s Academy of Architecture (University of Italian Switzerland) for the past 12 years. His classes have focused mainly on production design.
The fate of next year’s Rome Film Festival remains to be seen. There has been some talk of combining the festival with Roma Fiction Fest, the city’s fall celebration of new international TV.
Oct. 26, 5:30 p.m. Updated with festival’s response.