Rome Film Fest Stakeholders Turn to Gov't to Bridge Budget Shortfall

Marco Mueller - P 2011
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There is little indication so far that the Ministry of Culture will come to the rescue. If it doesn't, the 8-year-old festival may have to scale back.

ROME – Stakeholders for the International Rome Film Festival have turned to the Ministry of Culture to help to close what appears to be a budget shortfall, but there is so far no indication that the cash-strapped ministry will be able to help.

People close to the negotiations tell The Hollywood Reporter that Rome artistic director Marco Mueller asked for a total budget of €11 million ($14.2 million), the same budget the festival had in its first year. Existing sources of revenue are expected to fall short of that figure, resulting in a call for help from newly-installed Minister of Culture Massimo Bray or the prospect of a scaled down festival come November.

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The meeting of the eight-year-old festival’s four main stakeholders -- the City of Rome, the Region of Lazio, the Rome Chamber of Commerce, and the administrative body that has replaced the provincial government of Rome -- closed with an agreement to provide the same €4 million ($5.2 million) in support the four entities gave last year.

A year ago, cash sponsorship reportedly totaled around €2.4 million ($3.1 million), but experts say the festival will fall short of that figure this year, mostly due to the weak economy. In-kind contributions were worth a little less than €3 million ($3.9 million) -- no indication yet if that will be a reasonable figure to shoot for this year -- plus a “few hundred thousand” euro from ticket sales, according to one source among the stakeholders.

“I think we’re looking at a budget of at least €9 million ($11.6 million), maybe a little more,” said Paolo Fallai, a journalist who covers the film festival for Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper.

Last year, the festival got a one-time grant worth €1.8 million ($2.3 million), but reportedly almost half of it was never delivered. A repeat grant is unlikely, and the debts stemming from last year’s partial payment could actually subtract from this year’s bottom line.

“The meeting did little more than confirm what we already knew,” said one official close to the talks. “We are where we suspected we would be. But now it’s at least official."

If the shortfall will be bridged, it will have to come from the ministry, which already provides €7 million ($9 million) in support to the rival Venice Film Festival, a figure extremely unlikely to change. Officials from the ministry did not return calls seeking comments, but expert observers said that getting significant financial support from the ministry was a probably a long shot at best.

"The ministry doesn't have a surplus, and if they backed Rome what is to stop other festivals from looking for help," an official close to the talks said, asking not to be named. "The support for Venice is long standing, but they've always drawn a line after that."

The ground could shift further later this month when voters go to the polls to select a new mayor for Rome. Incumbent Gianni Alemanno, a supporter of the festival, is standing for reelection, but is trailing in the polls. If a critic of the festival wins, it could be a blow to the event. The first round in that vote is scheduled for May 26, with a run-off, if needed, to take place June 9-10.

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Where does that leave the festival? Barring an unanticipated development, it may just have to make due with less money, though it is unclear if that means a shorter festival, fewer sections, fewer films, or reductions elsewhere. While officials from three of the stakeholders spoke to THR on background, festival officials declined to speak and the festival made no official statement in the wake of Wednesday’s meetings. But to many, the options are clear.

“If a family realizes it will have less money coming in they make certain decisions: maybe they switch to a smaller car, or maybe they take 15 days of vacation instead of a month,” Fallai said. “What we don’t know is where the Rome festival will decide to reduce its spending if that’s what it comes to.”

The festival is scheduled to take place this year Nov. 8-17.

Twitter: @EricJLyman