Italo fests go head-to-head

What will the new RomeFilmFest, with its debut coming just one month after Venice, mean for the old Grand Dame?

Nascent Rome vows it will be a big, populist, metropolitan affair that won’t antagonize the more elitist Lido. But it would be myopic not to foresee the two high-profile events eventually vying for supremacy in what, however, could turn out to be healthy competition. At least for the first few years.

Besides its age-old status, Venice has an edge, being positioned at the start of the fall season when movie attendance picks up after the summer and when Oscar campaigns begin. But the Lido is hamstrung by its Fascist-era Palazzo del Cinema and other obsolete infrastructures, which, besides stunting its screen capacity, prevents the Lagoon from having a proper market.

Rome, in turn, has a spanking new Renzo Piano-designed auditorium as its four-screen hub, connected by shuttle bus to nearby cinemas downtown and a buyer’s area on the Via Veneto, of “La Dolce Vita” fame. Of course, how well all this will work remains to be seen.

In the end, the Eternal City fest’s biggest plus may be that “everybody wants to come to Rome,” as veteran Italo sales agent Adriana Chiesa puts it.

Chiesa and other local sales execs see the RomeFilmFest as a new opportunity to peddle their wares, after the demise of Milan’s Mifed mart. Problem is, Santa Monica’s mega AFM is only about a week away, while South Korea’s Pusan fest, with its new, ambitious Asian Film Market, is concurrent. That restricts Rome’s main target to smaller Euro outfits who used to go to Mifed but won’t be attending AFM.

“I only go to Venice when I have a movie there. But I’m definitely going to Rome,” says a Euro arthouse shingle topper who has been wooed.

Clashes between Venice and Rome go back as far as the Renaissance, so it’s not surprising the Italo media has been having a field day playing up the rivalry angle, even though both sides vaunt a spirit of collaboration and have pacted for joint tributes to Roberto Rossellini and Luchino Visconti.

Marco Muller, who beefed up the Lido’s Industry Office this year, makes it clear he has no intention of relinquishing Venice’s market, albeit an informal one, where folks from the likes of Focus Features, the Weinstein Co. and Paramount Vantage always come to check out new goods, usually before closing deals in Toronto. Venice has also seen a stronger presence of Asian execs in recent years.

“The more the press and media stress the possible competition between Rome and Venice, somehow the better it will be for Venice,” Muller says. “Because then top world sales execs will really have to decide if they want to be in Venice or not. And so far the answer is yes,” the Lido topper crows.

But Muller, who has been instrumental in boosting the Lido, also stresses that unless Venice gets an infrastructural overhaul, it will begin to sink.

Italo culture czar Francesco Rutelli, a former Rome mayor who is clearly in the Eternal City’s corner, recently pledged to support construction of Venice’s planned new palazzo, vowing that “Italy will have a stronger Venice than ever.” Whether he will put the government’s money where his mouth is, remains to be seen.

As for fighting over films, it’s too early to say how Rome will shape its lineup or whether the two fests could somehow complement each other rather than just jostle. But there’s no doubt that Rome’s existence prompted Muller to lure 21 world preems to the Lido this year, for the first time in its postwar history. So far, that can only be positive.

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