What's in a name? A lot for one Georgia city

Italian capital encroaches on international film fest moniker

ROME -- Move over, Rome International Film Festival; the Rome International Film Festival is about to get under way.

Earlier this year, the three-year-old RomaCinemaFest announced it had changed its name to the "Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma" -- which translates to Rome International Film Festival. Trouble is, another festival -- in Rome, Ga. -- has been using that name for five years.

"It was a bit of a surprise to read about the other festival using the same name, but I think it's clear the name belongs to us," says Barry Norman, who founded the Georgia-based festival in 2004. "The other city is obviously the original Rome, but our festival is the original Rome International Film Festival."

The fifth edition of the four-day-long Georgia festival, which focuses on independent films, concluded Sept. 7. The third edition of the Italian event begins Wednesday.

So far, nobody's blinking. Norman, who directed the Georgia festival for its first four editions, is calling on the Italian event to change its name. Any name would be fine, he says, as long as it isn't the one used by the festival he founded. Italian officials, meanwhile, say the new name will stay.

While no one is suggesting the case of confused identities is headed for a courtroom, legal experts say both sides have a strong argument.

"The U.S. festival could argue that they had the name first," says Argia Bignami, an Italy-based attorney specializing in intellectual property issues. "But the Italians could say that when people talk about Rome, it's the Italian city they are taking about. In this case, the point may be moot because the Italian festival's legal name is likely the Italian version."

Harry Musselwhite, the Georgia festival's current director, scoffs at any notion of mistaken identity. "I think it's clear the two festivals have very different missions," he says.

That said, the existence of the eponymous festivals is causing confusion in some circles -- and has been since even before the name change. Norman says that many who submit films to the Georgia event believe they are submitting their projects to a festival in Italy. And a number of "friends" on the Georgian festival's MySpace page are Italians who took a wrong cyber turn.

Pierra Detassis, the Italian festivals' artistic director, is philosophical: "I'm told that our American brothers are attracting attention from many corners because of our reputation. Unfortunately, I cannot say, 'and visa versa.' "