Rome Film Festival Plans 60 World Premieres, Revamps Sections

Marco Mueller
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

Rome's rivalry with Venice is expected to heat up after changes that previously included moving the event's dates in order to screen films vying for Oscar eligibility


ROME – In the first major moves since a dramatic leadership shakeup in May, the International Rome Film Festival on Tuesday announced an ambitious new game plan that includes a heavy emphasis on world premiere films, plus new sections aimed at taking the pulse of the contemporary film world and highlighting Italian cinema.

The new blue print can be seen as the biggest salvo yet in the expected-to-be-intense battle between the seven-year-old Rome event and its better-established rival in Venice, which will hold its 69th edition later in the summer.

New Rome artistic director Marco Mueller held the same post for eight years in Venice before being unceremoniously ousted in December, and the new game plan for Rome has significant similarities to the kind of festival Mueller ran on the Venice Lido between 2004 and 2011.

To wit: The Cinema XXI showcase of trends in contemporary cinema smacks of Venice’s well-regarded Horizons sidebar; the Italian cinema initiatives under the Perspectives Italy banner could emerge as the stand-in for Venice’s all-Italian Contracampo Italiano sidebar jettisoned this year by Mueller’s successor in Venice Alberto Barbera; and the promise of screening 60 world premieres in the Italian capital recalls Mueller’s infamous insistence that films that screened in Venice could be seen nowhere else first. The large number of films expected to screen also bears Mueller’s signature and is in contrast to Barbera’s vision for Venice, which he said in May would be slimmed down, “more sober, and less glitzy” than previous editions of the storied event.

Early indications of what the revamped Venice Film Festival will look like are focusing on an area Rome couldn't possibly match: Venice's storied history. In June, the festival announced it would create a special retrospective from ten extremely rare films from the festival's archives. 

Tuesday’s announcement is the biggest indication so far about how the event -- Italy’s youngest major festival -- will be reshaped under the leadership of Mueller and former Warner Bros Italia head Paolo Ferrari, who was appointed three weeks before Mueller took his position.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, the biggest news out of Rome since the appointment of the Ferrari-Mueller team was that the Rome event would push its dates back around three weeks to Nov. 9-17, where it will seek to occupy the mid-point between Venice and Toronto in September and Berlin in February. The move is also expected to make it easier for Rome to capture the premieres of year-end releases and for a more vibrant market to emerge during the festival.

The first edition of the Rome festival took place in 2006 with ambitions to compete with Venice, but a strong rivalry never materialized, and with Mueller in Venice and Pierra Detassis heading Rome, an uneasy truce emerged. But that appears to be gone now, with Mueller in Rome. Venice’s Barbera said earlier this year that it would be “very difficult” to collaborate with Rome if Mueller was named artistic director, and in recent weeks officials associated with both events have said in informal conversations that the friction between the two events was only likely to heat up over the summer.

According to Rome’s announcement Tuesday, the festival’s in-competition selection will be limited to 15 films, with another six screened out of competition. The CinemaXXI sidebar will be reserved for up to 15 full or short features that “reflect the continuous reinvention of cinema on the contemporary visual scene.” The Perspectives Italy sidebar, meanwhile, will feature up to 14 full-length films and seven shorts that “take stock of new trends in Italian cinema,” all of them screening in competition.

The festival will retain and expand its the Business Street market event, which will take place this year Nov. 14-18. The Alice Nella Citta (Alice in the City) sidebar of films for young viewers will also be retained, and the names of the main awards will remain the same: the Marcus Aurelius award for Best Film Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress, and the Jury Award.

The main jury will be made up of seven cinema and cultural figures, while a second jury of five cinema industry or cultural figures will select the Best Debut Film from among those in the official selections. Other awards will be handed out within the CinemaXXI and Perspectives Italy sections. The festival will award a lifetime achievement honor as well.

Organizers said that the official selection will be made up entirely of world premieres except for rare exceptions of films not yet distributed outside their home country.

The most high-profile holdover from the previous Rome festivals is Mario Sesti, one of the founders of the Rome event. Sesti, who previously oversaw the festival’s Extra sidebar that was replaced by CinemaXXI, was named as the artistic director for the just-completed Taormina Film Festival. But he will stay on in Rome as well, heading the selection of documentaries for the festival.