Rome rallies the public

'Resolution 182' takes prize as rocky festival closes

ROME -- The Rome International Film Festival has emerged from its third edition bruised but not beaten.

The 10-day festival, which concluded Friday, was attacked by critics from the start for what was generally seen as an unexpectedly weak lineup. A column in La Repubblica called for the festival to close down. Corriere della Sera said the event has lacked direction since the election of Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, who never visited the festival and has made no secret about being far less enthusiastic about the event than his predecessor, one of the festival's founders.

But proud festival president Gian Luigi Rondi -- the 86-year-old former Venice president who came out of near-retirement to take the helm of the Rome event -- took the stage at Parco della Musica on Friday and proclaimed himself "very satisfied" with the event, brushing off criticism.

"Certain snobs may want to look at it differently, but the reaction from the public is what matters, and that has been very enthusiastic," Rondi said.

One of Rondi's acts as president was to put the selection of the festival's top film in the hands of the public, with a popular vote weighted in proportion to the tickets sold. Nearly two-thirds of the viewers cast a vote for the films they saw, and the winner was made-for-TV "Resolution 819," an exploration of the Balkans conflict from Italy's Giacomo Battiato. It was the first time an Italian co-production won Rome's Marcus Aurelius prize and the 75,000-euro ($97,000) cash award.

A second jury award -- which does not carry a cash prize -- went to "Opium War" from Siddiq Barmak. The jury also selected Donatella Finocchiaro as the festival's best actress for her work in Edoardo Winspeare's "Galantuomini," while "With a Warm Heart" star Bohdan Stupka was given the best actor award.

Statistically, the festival shined compared with its previous two editions: The number of total visitors was down 3% compared to last year, but ticket sales were up 5% and revenue from ticket sales leapt 15% despite half-off promotions for several films near the end. Weather was dreary during the final days, but the average venue was still 89% full, the festival said, up from 82% in 2007.

As if to eliminate doubt about the future of festival, Rondi also announced that it had signed a lease for the festival to remain at the ultra modern Parco della Musica for the next three editions.