Officials Unveil Scaled-Back Rome Film Fest

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Rome's red carpet

Sophomore director Marco Mueller will work with a $14 million budget -- shifting focus away from world premieres.

ROME – Stakeholders for the International Rome Film Festival unveiled their plan to save the eight-year-old event, approving the budget second-year artistic director Marco Mueller asked for while also scaling back the size and makeup of the festival’s lineup as demanded by some key supporters.

The fate of the ambitious festival has been clouded in doubt for months, ever since the lukewarm reception to last year’s event -- the first headed by Mueller, a former Venice artistic director, and president Paolo Ferrari, the former head of Warner Bros.-Italia -- followed by budget issues and political turmoil that put the backing of some key stakeholders in question.

The festival is not out of the woods yet, but this week’s stakeholders meeting did a great deal to dispel worries over whether the festival would survive.

The biggest change in the platform of the festival will be a shift away from world premieres, a 180-degree turn from last year's event but closer to its original mission as a popular "cinema party."

Mueller earned headlines a year ago by boasting the 2012 festival would attract at least 60 world premieres (he delivered, but few of the films garnered much critical or popular attention). Starting this year, the festival will morph into a more public-oriented event, with fewer films and more of an emphasis on productions likely to resonate with local moviegoers. Speaking in Cannes, before the announcement from stakeholders, Mueller also said the event would become more of a showcase for Italian-made productions.

The changes were evidently enough to satisfy the concerns of Nicola Zingaretti, the newly elected head of the Lazio regional government. Zingaretti had been a vocal critic of the Rome festival’s aspirations to be a glamorous event full of world premieres and a star-studded red carpet in the tradition of Cannes and Venice.

Additionally, worries that a likely change at City Hall could put the City of Rome’s support in doubt were put to rest this week. Incumbent mayor Gianni Alemanno had been a strong supporter of brining Mueller and Ferrari to Rome to replace Piera Detassis and Gian Luigi Rondi, who had run the festival through the 2011 edition. But Alemanno is the underdog in the city’s June 9-10 runoff mayoral election against center-left candidate Ignazio Marino, whose views on the event had been unknown. But late Monday, Marino declared the Rome event “an important cultural event that deserves to be financed.”

In specific terms, stakeholders approved the €11 million ($14.2 million) budget Mueller had asked for. The biggest public stakeholders -- the City of Rome, the Lazio regional government, the Rome Chamber of Commerce, and the Rome provincial government -- have in past years combined to contribute €4 million ($5.2 million) to the festival. With an increase from the City of Rome and the Rome Chamber of Commerce -- from €1.1 million ($1.5 million) each previously to €1.5 million ($2.0 million) and €1.8 million ($2.3 million), respectively -- that support has now been upped to €5 million ($6.5 million).

Sources told The Hollywood Reporter the festival expects around €2.5 to 3 million ($3.3-3.9 million) in in-kind contributions, most significantly the use of the state-of-the-art Auditorium Parco della Musica venue on Rome's northern edge. Additionally, with the shift to a more public oriented event, revenue from private sponsors (reportedly €2.2 million, or $3.1 million, a year ago) should more or less hold steady or perhaps even rise, while ticket revenue (reportedly around €200,000, or $260,000) should grow.

But that still leaves a shortfall of around €1 million. Stakeholders have asked the Ministry of Culture, which already contributes a reported €7 million ($9.1 million) to the Venice Film Festival’s budget, for that amount. New Minister Massimo Bray has not responded, though festival officials say privately they expect to receive an amount closer to €400,000 ($520,000) from the ministry, a figure that might still be enough to get to the €11 million budget stakeholders was approved.

Some Italian media report the festival finished last year as much as €2 million ($2.6 million) in the red, a figure that would throw the budget out of whack. But Ferrari has denied the event started this year with any outstanding debts from 2012.

The festival is set to take place Nov. 9-17.

More details about the event's plans -- including the impact on its The Business Street market event and various competitions -- are expected to emerge in the coming weeks.

Twitter: @EricJLyman