Turin ready for close-up

Moretti-led fest looks for its niche

The 25th edition of the Turin Film Festival gets under way Friday with the storied event still looking to find its footing in Italy's fast-changing festival landscape.

Long Italy's premier discovery festival, Turin this year is basking in the notoriety of having one of Italy's best-known directors at the helm while also feeling crowded by the country's jam-packed film festival calendar.

Turin made headlines with the off-again, on-again selection of award-winning auteur Nanni Moretti as its new artistic director in January. Moretti took the post, promptly quit after clashing with the festival's board, then re-accepted the position after one board member stepped down.

Ten months later, Moretti made his own headlines when he overshadowed a briefing ostensibly held to announce the Turin lineup by taking swipes at the two-year-old RomaCinemaFest, which he said is scheduled too near Turin's long-established spot on the calendar. He also said that Rome had been aggressive in scheduling films that should rightfully screen in Turin.

"I am not looking for problems, but I am looking at the calendar, and when Rome picks a date that's one month after the Venice Film Festival and one month before Turin, then that means they are looking for trouble," Moretti said at the Nov. 7 briefing. He noted that the Oct. 18-27 Rome event was almost exactly at the midpoint between the Aug. 29-Sept. 8 Venice fest and Turin, which concludes Dec. 1.

The comments sparked a brief war of words — "I'm sorry that Moretti has been reduced to attacking the RomaCinemaFest as a way to attract more visibility," Rome co-director Mario Sesti said soon after — but as Turin's start date draws closer, the dust has settled and attention has shifted to the festival itself.

The festival's 12-film competition lineup of directors' first, second or third efforts is void of world premieres and of local Italian fare. But it does include some noteworthy titles, including "Away From Her," Sarah Polley's cerebral drama about a woman with Alzheimer's disease; "The Art of Negative Thinking," Norwegian helmer Bard Breien's tale of a man who contemplates suicide after being seriously injured in a car accident; and the festival's opening film, Tamara Jenkins' "The Savages," which tells the story of a brother and sister taking care of their ailing father.

Additionally, Moretti persuaded his friend Wim Wenders to come to Turin for a complete retrospective and an onstage conversation and Q&A session. The late John Cassavetes also will be honored with a retrospective.

Turin announced its jury just a week before the festival was set to start, featuring several high-visibility figures including directors Aki Kaurismaki and Andre Techine and Italian actress Jasmine Trinca, a fixture in Moretti's films.

So far, the reception among local moviegoers in Turin has been cool, though festival officials say that will improve. News agency ADNKronos reported that online ticket sales have been weak, though festival officials say sales should pick up once the festival gets under way.