Italy Media Charges Rome Fest With Unfairly Favoring Films Made With Local Support

Marco Mueller
Photo by Luca Dammicco

In its latest salvo, the media noted that five prizes went to Italian films made with support from the regional entity that strongly supported artistic director Marco Mueller

ROME – When prizes were handed out Saturday at the International Rome Film Festival Saturday, one notable development was the strong showing from Italian-made films. On Monday, a leading Italian newspaper pointed out that five of the prizes that went to Italian films were for productions that received funding from one of the festival’s biggest supporters.

The report was the latest example of an Italian media that proved unusually combative when it came to the seven-year-old festival.

Aside from one prize winning film that sparked more hisses and boos than applause, the event -- the first under artistic director Marco Mueller, who came to the Rome festival after eight successful years in Venice -- finished relatively strongly. 

Ticket sales appeared to improve during the second half of the eight-day event, as most of the biggest name stars were schedule for the final days of the festival. The number of attendees for the closing ceremony could not be contained in the festival’s largest venue, necessitating a direct feed in a spillover venue nearby. The number of media credentials issued was higher than in past years, and, at least internationally, much of the media coverage praised Mueller’s leadership of the event, which announced its full lineup little more than five months after Mueller was approved for the job.

As the festival was drawing to a close, Mueller said that producers and directors participating in the festival paid tribute to the event for everything from the quality of the screening facilities to feeling “the embrace of the Roman public” from the red carpet.

But more often than not, the Italian media has been critical of the Rome festival ever since Mueller replaced incumbent Piera Detassis, a respected Italian editor, critic and journalist, as artistic director. Reports attacked it for pushing its dates back to November from their traditional home in October, the festival's ticket price plan, the quality of the films in the lineup, the relative lack of big name stars, and, on Monday, charges in the Milan daily Il Giornale that strong support for Mueller from the region of Lazio, which includes Rome, may have influenced the festival's juries.

The strong showing for Italian films in Rome was in contrast to the far more established Venice Film Festival, which in September drew fire for a failure to recognize home-grown productions, most notably Marco Bellocchio’s euthanasia drama Bella Adormentata (Dormant Beauty), which drew raves from critics.

All told, four Italian films won a total of six first- or second-tier prizes in Rome. Claudio Giovannesi’s small-time crime drama Ali ha gli occhi azzuri (Ali Has Blue Eyes) won both the jury prize and the award for Best Debut or Second Film, Paolo Franchi’s E la chiamano estate (And They Call it Summer) won the award for Best Director and an acting award for its female lead Isabella Ferrari, and Alessandro Gassman’s Razza Bastarda won a special jury mention from Best Debut or Second Film, and Cosimo e Nicole, from Francesco Amato, won the main prize in the Prospetive Italia sidebar for Italian films.

Of those four films, three -- all but Razza Bastarda -- were made with funding from the film fund from the Region of Lazio, whose recently departed president, Renata Polverini, had been one of Mueller’s staunchest supporters as the festival was debating his merits compared to those of Detassis earlier in the year.

The double prize for Franchi’s E la chiamano estate was the most controversial: the film screened to hisses and boos, and when Ferrari was announced as the Best Actress award winner jeers of "Vergogna! Vergogna!” (Shame! Shame!) broke out from some at the closing ceremony. (For his part, Franchi attributed the response to his film as a public “fear” about films that directly address sexual issues).

It was the second time in three years that juries in one of Mueller's festivals were charged with a kind of cronyism: at the 2010 edition of the Venice Film Festival, jury president Quentin Tarrantino was blasted for handing out three of the festival's awards to directors he had a personal relationship with, including the festival's top prize to Somewhere from Sofia Coppola, Tarantino's former girlfriend.