Italian fests face off

Venice, Rome spoke of synergy but likely on collision course

ROME — Is Venice in danger of sinking? The 62nd edition of the venerable fest sailed smoothly enough, with stars attending a solid assortment of pics that unspooled at the Lido without major glitches.

But a delegation of politicos from Rome also washed up at the lagoon with intentions as murky as the water itself.

Led by Rome’s mayor, Walter Veltroni, who has long aspired to boost the capital — and moviemaking hub — with a high-profile film event, the pols picked the Lido to launch the Eternal City’s new international fest, called Cinema, set to bow Oct. 13-21, 2006.

The Italian industry en-masse attended the Cinema press conference, which played like a Commedia dell’Arte farce.

As the polished pols spoke of synergy between the two events, it became clear as Murano crystal that Venice and Rome were on a collision course.

Rome’s nascent nine-day event boasts a fat, privately sponsored, E7 million ($8.5 million) budget — close to Venice’s — a modern, Renzo Piano-designed concert hall equipped with seven screening facilities and plans to unspool 80 titles at the fest, which aspires to be a cross between Tribeca and Toronto.

“Our first priority is for the movies to find a wide audience,” says Giorgio Gosetti, the industry operator and current Venice Days sidebar chief who is among Cinema’s head honchos. “Our other objectives are to attract buyers and sellers and local and international press.”

The Rome fest, which has a steering committee but no single topper, is being assembled by Gosetti and film critic Mario Sesti. Former Locarno deputy chief Teresa Cavina is in charge of the international side, prominent film journo Piera De Tassis will run galas.

One pol on the panel who wasn’t toeing the synergy line was Venice’s mayor, Massimo Cacciari.

“It’s clear that our interests are going to overlap. Are you guys going to be trying to get the worst movies?” Cacciari acerbically asked. “It’s fine that we will be competing. But if Venice doesn’t get a new Palazzo del Cinema, we won’t be competing on an even keel. We will be submerged.”

Venice needs $122 million to build its planned screening and convention complex with market facilities, which could be in place as early as 2008.

New digs would make the cramped Venice — which does not have a formal market — more similar in infrastructure to Cannes.

Meanwhile Rome is trying to develop its own market. Both fests are now vying for financing from the government, which wants to establish a new Italo mart to compensate for the demise of Mifed, which was squeezed out when the American Film Market moved to its November slot.

“Why an October market in Rome?” cried out Venice artistic topper Marco Muller. “All the international sales companies agree they don’t need a new European market. Venice already has market activity, it just needs to be boosted.”

But another school of thought — per several Euro sellers — is that the American Film Market has not replaced Mifed for the Europeans. Some sales companies could use a fall mart, and Venice doesn’t have the infrastructure for that now.

Years of lethargy at the Lido have instilled the feeling in the Italo industry that Venice may have missed the boat — or, at least, that Rome could give the Lido a much needed wake-up call.

“If Venice succumbs, it won’t be Rome’s fault,” said Filmauro topper Aurelio De Laurentiis. “It will be the government and the Venetians’ fault for not supporting it and failing to make it competitive with Cannes.”

Still, it does seems a shame for Italy to undermine a fest with a glorious 70-year history and which this year — thanks to pics like Ang Lee’s Golden Lion winner “Brokeback Mountain,” and George Clooney’s twice-prized “Goodnight, and Good Luck,” among other standouts — consolidated its standing as one of the world’s top film events.

“I hope to be able to continue to build on this,” said Muller as Venice wound down Sept. 10 to a consensus of good reviews, “otherwise I’ll go back to producing. But this time I’ll go work in Switzerland.”

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