Turin Festival Director Blasts Rome Fest for Paying for Stars

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Scarlett Johansson at the Rome Film Festival

Paolo Virzi claims Scarlett Johansson got at least $500,000 to attend, but Rome has long held it pays only expenses for stars who have agreed to come to the event.

The latest in a series of jabs between the just-completed Rome Film Festival and the soon-to-start Turin Film Festival has focused on whether or not Rome, which is partially supported by public funding, should have used part of its budget to pay for stars to attend the event.

Second-year Rome artistic director Marco Mueller has long maintained that the festival pays only the expenses for stars who agree to come to the festival and on Tuesday, fest president Paolo Ferrari reiterated that point.

This year's event attracted a lot of attention with the arrival of several A-list acting talents, including Jennifer Lawrence, Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson.

It was the appearance of Johansson, who won the festival's top acting prize for her work in Spike Jonze's Her, that sparked an attack from film director Paolo Virzi, who is in his first year as creative director of the Turin festival. Virzi reportedly criticized Rome for spending "at least $500,000" to bring Johansson to the Rome festival, a charge Rome denied.

Virzi later backtracked on his remarks. But he asked local journalists to consider the follwing: If stars truly were willing to come to Italian festivals with no compensation, why was director Jon Turteltaub the only representative of Last Vegas, Turin's opening film this year, while the film's famous stars Robert De Niro, Michael Douglas, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline stayed home?

"When people ask why only the film's director will attend our festival, I explain that a certain caliber of Hollywood superstar requires more money than most festivals can spend," Virzi told Italian journalists.

It is not the first time the topic of paying stars to attend a festival surfaced in Italy -- accurately or not. As recently as September, Venice artistic director Alberto Barbera was quoted in Italian and French newspapers saying that Steve McQueen's acclaimed 12 Years a Slave did not premiere in Venice because the festival balked at paying for a 50-person entourage to be flown in for the event. A day later, Barbera told The Hollywood Reporter in Toronto his remarks had been taken out of context.  

After his first festival in Rome last year, Mueller replied to those who criticized the festival for attracting few high-profile names that it was because of his policy not to pay for stars to come to his events.

Rome and Turin have clashed multiple times in the past, often in a battle over certain films and in regard to sponsorship support and media attention. When Mueller arrived in Rome, he pushed the festival's dates back a month into November, leaving what this year is a five-day gap between Rome's close last Sunday and Turin's opening on Friday.

That issue will only worsen in 2014 after Mueller said he would push Rome's date back another week to avoid a conflict with the American Film Market. He promised to reach a compromise on the topic with Turin officials.

Twitter: @EricJLyman