Italy's Turin Fest Opens Friday Amid a Recent Spate of Controversy

Keira Knightley

Socialite Karenina (Knightley) is surrounded by jewel-toned brocades and damasks and ornamental gilt furniture, which signify the wealth and opulence of the Russian aristocracy during the 1800s. The elaborate handcraft of Russian Imperial decor rivals work done for contemporaneous European royalty.

Ken Loach pulled out of the event to protest a local labor issue, but the festival has also locked horns with the Rome Fest and the local media.

ROME – When the Turin Film Festival opens its 30th edition Friday night, the last under the artistic directorship of Italian auteur Gianni Amelio, it will have done so with more than its normal share of controversy.

The latest controversy broke Wednesday, when British director Ken Loach announced he would not be attending the Turin festival in protest of some of the labor practices at Turin’s National Film Museum, the festival’s parent organization. The story made headlines across Italy, helping to call attention to what had been a low-profile issue.

Loach had been scheduled to receive one of the festival’s two Gran Premio Torino lifetime achievement honors.

“We made a film dedicated to this topic,” Loach said, referring to his 2000 Cannes Palme d’Or nominated drama Bread and Roses. “How could I not respond to a request for solidarity from workers who were fired for fighting for their rights? Accepting the award and confining myself to a few critical comments would be weak and hypocritical.”

For its part, the National Film Museum issued a statement saying Loach had been “badly informed,” while Amelio called Loach's decision an "aristocratic judgement" and Alberto Barbera -- Venice's artistic director and also director of the Turin museum -- denied that any workers had lost their jobs. 

But even before that, the festival courted polemics: organizers viciously criticized the International Rome Film Festival back in May after Rome’s new artistic director, Marco Mueller, pushed Rome’s dates from their traditional perch in October into November, leaving a brief six-day gap between the two events -- something Turin organizers said would make it more difficult for them to attract sponsors and media attention.

Then, earlier this month, when Turin announced its lineup in Rome, Amelio took a swipe the rival Rome fest. “The real filmmakers are with us,” Amelio said, sparking a brief war of words with Rome’s Mueller.

And in August, the festival blasted local media for reporting that Gabriele Salvatores, the director behind 1992 foreign language film Oscar-winner Mediterraneo would replace Amelio as Turin artistic director without waiting for confirmation or an official announcement. 

But now, with the controversies out of the way, it’s finally time for the films to finally take center stage at the normally trauma-free event. 

Turin has an eclectic 16-film in competition lineup made up of the first and second films from their respective directors, plus a rich collection of out-of-competition films highlighted by Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut, Quartet, the festival’s opening film; Joe Wright’s big-budget adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s classic epic Anna Karenina; A Liar’s Autobiography – the Untrue Story of Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, an animated comedy from Bill Jones, Jeff Simpson, and Ben Timlett; Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris’ romantic comedy Ruby Sparks; The Sessions, a story about an man on an iron lung who wishes to lose his virginity written and directed by Ben Lewin; and finally closing on Dec. 1 with coming of age story Ginger & Rosa from U.K. director Sally Potter.

One film that won’t screen is Loach’s The Angels' Share, which Italian distributor BIM Distribuzione pulled after Loach said he wouldn’t come to the event. A replacement for The Angels' Share has not yet been named.

Loach’s withdrawal leaves Italian maestro Ettore Scola as the festival’s sole Gran Premio Torino honoree. Scola confirmed Thursday that he would accept the prize and use the forum to express solidarity with the workers.

"A group of workers wrote me to ask me to support their protest by refusing to accept the award,| Scola said. "I replied that while I understand their struggle I did not think it appropriate to refuse the honor, as it would have been an unfair gesture for the festival, for Gianni Amelio, and of little use to their cause."