'Juno' takes home top prize at RomaCinemaFest


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ROME -- True to its roots as a festival geared for the general public rather than industry insiders and critics, the second RomaCinemaFest on Saturday awarded its top prize to a playful U.S.-made comedy along side an announcement that the festival drew 25% more spectators than it had a year earlier.

The so-called "people's jury" chose Jason Reitman's "Juno" -- a comedy about a pregnant girl who tries to find a couple to adopt her baby -- for the festival's golden Marcus Aurelius award for best film. The film, which started to be mentioned as a favorite soon after it premiered Thursday, stars Ellen Page as Juno, a Minnesota teenager facing an unwelcome pregnancy.

With the last film screened, festival organizers also announced Saturday that the 10-day event had attracted some 600,000 visitors for its sophomore edition, compared to 480,000 in 2006 -- even though fewer official selection films (102 compared to 117) screened and fewer free tickets (30,000 compared to 47,000) were given out this time around.

"We have some exceptional results from a festival filled with exceptional results," co-director Giorgio Gossetti said during a gala ceremony at Rome's Parco della Musica, which included music from Oscar-winning composer Ennio Morricone.

The full house reacted enthusiastically to the selection of "Juno" for the top prize, which was the runner-up for the people's choice award at the Toronto Film Festival in September. The response was a contrast to last year when the Marcus Aurelius prize went to Kirill Serebrennikov's "Izobrajaya Zhertvy" (Playing the Victim), a modern story loosely based on William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" that was a darling of the critics but drew mixed responses from moviegoers.

"Juno" will open in limited release in the U.S. in December and in Europe beginning early in 2008.

Among the acting prizes, Croatia's Rade Serbedzija won the best actor prize for his role in "Fugitive Pieces" as a Greek archeologist who saves a Jewish orphan during World War II. And "Le Chun" (And the Spring Comes) star Jiang Wenli won the best actress prize for her portrayal of a provincial opera singer with big dreams.

The jury also selected Abolfaz Jalili's "Hafez," an Iranian film about a young man assigned to teach a young girl he is prohibited from seeing because of Islamic law, for a special jury prize.

The prizes for "Juno," Serbedzija, Jang and Jalili were selected by a 50-member jury made up of Italian and other European film fans and chaired by award-winning Bosnian director Danis Tanovic.

Among the awards not selected by the popular jury were "La Giusta Distanza" (The Right Distance) star Giuseppe Battiston, who won the prize for best Italian performance; Battiston's co-star, Valentina Lodovini, who won the prize for best makeup; Sean Penn's "Into the Wild," which won a prize for the best film in the Premiere selection; and "Forbidden Lies," which took home the collateral prize for best documentary.