Rome Mayor Vote Headed for Runoff, Film Festival Hanging in Balance

Gianni Alemanno
Courtesy of City of Rome

Runoff rivals Surgeon Ignazio Marino and incumbent Gianni Alemanno have different views on the future of the eight-year-old Rome festival.

ROME – Exit polls after two days of voting for the next mayor of Rome are showing a likely June 9-10 runoff between center-left candidate Ignazio Marino and incumbent Gianni Alemanno, the main center-right candidate, with the future of the International Rome Film Festival possibly hanging in the balance.

In an upset, Alemanno won the mayor’s race five years ago on a campaign that criticized predecessor and Rome festival co-founder Walter Veltroni for money the municipal government spent on the lavish film fest. But Alemanno eventually became a supporter of the eight-year-old event, strongly supporting a switch last year that brought former Venice chief Marco Mueller and ex-Warner Bros. Italia head Paolo Ferrari to Rome as artistic director and president, respectively.

But Mueller and Ferrari’s first year at Rome’s helm earned lukewarm reviews and saw attendance fall by a sixth, and now cash problems have emerged ahead of the 2013 edition of the event, forcing stakeholders to ask the Ministry of Culture for as much as €2 million ($2.6 million) in support. Alemanno indicated that the city would continue to provide the €1.1 million ($1.4 million) in support it contributed in the past, but if Marino wins the runoff the city’s support for future editions of the festival as its exists now could be in doubt -- but it is far from clear whether that would mean smaller financial backing or some kind of restructuring of the event.

Marino, a surgeon by profession, is part of the same general political coalition as Nicola Zingaretti, the newly-elected president of the region of Lazio, another key festival stakeholder. Earlier this month, Zingaretti said the region would maintain its previous support for the festival. But he has previously criticized the event for straying too far from its roots as an event with popular appeal to become an international event competing to host world premiere screenings and big stars on its red carpet.

The fate of the Rome festival has not been one of the central issues of the campaign, where most discussion has been focused on ways to increase economic activity in the city and improve government services, waste disposal and the city’s image abroad.

The official results of Sunday and Monday's voting are not expected to be announced until late Monday night local time. But exit polls from state broadcaster RAI show Marino first with 39.2 percent of the vote, followed by Alemanno at 32.2 percent. Both were far ahead of Marcello De Vito, part of the political movement led by comedian-turned-activist Beppe Grillo, with 12.8 percent of the vote. It was Grillo’s surprising 25-percent showing in February’s national vote that upset the traditional left-right political balance and helped spark a ten-week political standoff that the finally ended when Enrico Letta was named prime minister in April.

If no candidate reaches the 50-percent threshold, it triggers an automatic second round of voting June 9-10 to decide on the next mayor of the Italian capital’s 2.6 million residents.

Massimo Bray, Letta’s minister of culture, listed his main priorities in a parliamentary address last week. But he did not address the request for financial backing from Rome festival stakeholders, sparking speculation in the local media that the ministry was unlikely to go beyond the €7 million ($9.1 million) in support it gives to the venerable Venice Film Festival each year.

Twitter: @EricJLyman