Rome Film Festival Ready to Move Forward From Troubled Past

The sixth edition runs from Oct. 27 through Nov. 4 in Italy.

ROME – With the sixth edition of the International Rome Film Festival approaching, Italian critics and observers are saying that the event may have finally begin putting its troubled past behind it, with a strong mix of titles in the official selection, an increasingly relevant market event and a spot on the calendar that helped ease tension with the entrenched festival up the road in Venice.

For the first years of Rome’s existence it often found itself embroiled in controversy, whether locking horns with the Venice festival that is 62 years its senior, or falling into the crosshairs in a mayoral election campaign won by the candidate who said the Italian capital would be better off dedicating its resources to infrastructure and mass transit than to a fledgling festival’s efforts to fly in Hollywood stars for its red carpet.

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But despite the economic crisis that has put a dent into Rome’s budget, the festival has managed to put those issues behind it.

For the second consecutive year, the festival will get underway in late October -- the opening ceremony this year is on Thursday, and the festival runs through Nov. 4 -- around two weeks later than in the past and lengthening the period between Venice’s close and Rome’s opening to seven weeks from five. The change has helped ease tensions with Venice significantly.

Meanwhile, Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno has soften his stance when it comes to the festival that was founded in 2006 by his main political rival. The city’s €1 million ($1.4 million) contribution to the festival’s budget has remained unchanged, and Alemanno usually makes an appearance at big festival events to lend his support.

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But the biggest change, according to local observers, has been to the festival itself.

One major change involves The Business Street, the festival’s market event that has seen participation from industry players, the number of films screened, and deal making all increase from year to year in recent editions. Part of the change has been the transformation of the event into a kind of cultivator for new projects rather than a simple setting for deals. Among the initiatives: the Industry Books event that brings publishers of books seen as having film potential together with producers, the New Cinema Network co-production lab, and strong ties with Eurimages, the European co-production agency.

To accommodate its growth, the market is this year spreading outward from a series of hotels along Rome’s picturesque Via Veneto to new designer digs at the Maxxi Museum of Contemporary Art. The first event at the Maxxi will be Italian Day, on Saturday, when in-progress Italian works being shopped around at the market will screen.

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At the same time The Business Street is nudging closer to the festival, the event’s various sections -- the Alice section for family films, the Extra sidebar for innovative new projects, and the main competition -- say they are working together as opposed to as autonomous parallel events.

The in-competition lineup sprinkled with titles from around the world along with a intriguing mix of crowd-pleasing fare, though light on world premieres and boasting only one U.S. title (the whodunit drama Magic Valley, the directorial debut from Jaffe Zinn). Among areas of emphasis are films focusing on women and explorations of the worldwide economic crisis.

The women’s theme gets underway with the festival’s opening film, Luc Besson’s The Lady, starring Michelle Yeoh as pro-democracy peace activist Aung San Suu Kyi. Yeoh will be in Rome for the premiere, and other top-shelf female talent expected to make the walk down Rome’s red carpet includes Penelope Cruz, in town for a roundtable discussion; Kristin Scott Thomas for Pawel Pawlikowski’s The Women in the Fifth; Maggie Gyllenhaal, for her work in Hysteria from Tanya Wexler; and singer Olivia Newton-John who will come to the festival in connection with Stephan Elliot’s comedy A Few Best Men.

Among the films focusing on the world’s ongoing economic malaise are Too Big to Fail, an exploration of the fall of investment bank Lehman Brothers from Curtis Hanson, in the main selection but out of competition, L’industriale (The Industrialist) from Italy’s Giuliano Montaldo, and French film Une vie meilleure (A Better Life) from Cedric Kahn. L’industriale will screen out of competition, while Une vie meilleure is among the 15 competition films.

Though U.S. films are underrepresented in the main competition, they abound in the festival as a whole. In addition to Too Big to Fail, the lineup includes Steven Spielberg’s illustrated fantasy project The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn and a 15-minute sneak preview of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo Cabret both in the official selection of the Alice sidebar, and Like Crazy, a story about separated lovers from Drake Doremus.

The festival, which gets underway Thursday, runs through Nov. 4.

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