Rome Film Festival: As Marco Mueller Takes Helm, Local Media Remains Skeptical

Marco Mueller
Photo by Luca Dammicco

The seven-year-old festival is under the leadership of former Venice artistic director for the first time this year.

The new incarnation of the International Rome Film Festival gets underway Friday with a new artistic director, increased international interest -- and a couple of mysteries to be revealed.

The seven-year-old festival had to overcome many obstacles to get to this point, ranging from a long and difficult battle over whether or not former Venice artistic director Marco Mueller should be installed in Rome, to an aggressive local media critical of many of the festival’s initiatives.

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In the latest local brouhaha, reports have circulated that ticket sales for the festival are down compared to last year, prompting organizers to offer special prices to in hopes of boosting sales. The festival had no comment when contacted on the subject, and in any case it’s always difficult to gauge the level of the public’s interest in a festival’s offerings before it starts. But judging from the level of attention from foreign media, interest is high.

A large part of the reason for that is Mueller, who made a name for himself by producing blockbuster lineups during an eight-year stint in Venice. The jury is still out on whether he’ll be able to do the same with a less established festival like Rome.

This year’s festival will go a long way to determining if he will be able to pull it off. In an interview, Mueller told The Hollywood Reporter that the way this festival is received will help to determine how easily he will be able to build on it in 2013 and beyond.

While the Rome lineup lacks the start power and big name films Mueller pulled off in Venice -- or that many anticipated for Rome -- there are several headline grabbers in the lineup, including Walter Hill’s thriller Bullet to the Head, Dreamworks’ animated 3D animated film Rise of the Guardians, and the latest installment of the Twilight Saga franchise. The big name stars expected to traverse Rome’s red carpet include James Franco, Sylvester Stallone, Bill Murray, Jude Law, and Adrien Brody.

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It all gets underway Friday night, with the opening ceremony hosted by Italian actress Claudia Pandolfi, followed by the world premiere of Bakhtiar Khudojnazarov’s existential epic V Ožidanii Morja (Waiting for the Sea), the festival’s opening film.

But there are a few gaps still to be filled. When the festival’s full lineup was announced a month ago, it included the names of only 13 of 15 in competition films -- two were withheld in order to help the films escape the grasp of censors in their home country. Since then one has been named -- Xiaogang Feng’s drought drama Yi Wu Si Er (Back to 1942) -- but the identity of the second surprise film is still a mystery.

Also a mystery is the role that Quentin Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western homage Django Unchained will play at the festival. The film was originally expected to premiere in Rome, but it was not finished in time. But speculation persists that it will still have some presence at the festival, possibly through an extended trailer or a special presentation announcing an Italian premiere for the film at a later date.

The festival concludes Nov. 17.