Rome on wild side


A series of student protests was the central story during the weekend at the third Rome International Film Festival, which set its sights on a full slate of in-competition screenings and a popular focus on Brazil.

Back-to-back protests by university students arguing for a more generous education budget and another anti-government youth protest led by former Rome mayor and festival founder Walter Veltroni filled Rome's streets and interrupted festival activities. At one point the exits at the festival's main venue were blocked, briefly trapping moviegoers inside and prompting festival police to don anti-riot gear.

But it was a more positive demonstration of joyful students waiting to get a glimpse of the Italian premiere of "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" on Sunday that left a lasting impression. Preceded by a colorful dance performance, the film played to an enthusiastic packed house.

The Brazil focus also was well received, with the international premiere of "Wandering Heart," Fernando Grostein Andrade's documentary about Brazilian singing legend Caetano Veloso, followed by an hourlong concert by Veloso among the weekend's highlights.

"The Baader Meinhof Complex," Uli Edel's examination of German domestic terrorism during the 1960s and '70s, was among the competition films generating buzz after its Italian premiere Friday.

The enthusiastic response to the weekend lineup helped distract the Italian media's attention from the festival's relative lack of star power this year. Although Al Pacino was in town to receive a lifetime achievement award and Mickey Rourke, David Cronenberg, Jane Campion, Monica Bellucci, Wim Wenders, Willem Dafoe, Matthew Modine and Gus Van Sant made appearances, the outlook for the coming days looks dimmer.

The festival ends Friday. (partialdiff)