De Niro clips close fest

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ROME — “Playing the Victim,” a black comedy by Russian helmer-playwright Kirill Serebrennikov, took the top prize at the first RomeFilmFest, which ended Saturday with organizers pleased, though event’s debut was far from flawless.

Comic “Hamlet” adaptation, in which a young man learns the truth about his dead father while working for the police as a crime victim impersonator, scooped fest’s rich E200,000 ($252,000) pic nod, voted by a jury of regular Roman film buffs.

“Victim” won Moscow’s Sochi fest in June and has been a minor hit in Russia.

The Special Jury Award went to “This Is England,” the racially charged skinhead dramedy by Blighty’s Shane Meadows that preemed in Toronto.

Headed by Italo helmer Ettore Scola, the 50-member jury included a traffic cop, a housewife and a shrink.

French thesp Ariane Ascaride scooped the actress nod for her role as a gun-toting cardiologist in Robert Guediguian’s “The Journey to Armenia.”

Male thesp prize went to Italy’s Giorgio Colangeli, who plays a convicted murderer in Italo first-timer Alessandro Angelini’s incisive prison drama “Salty Air,” a festival fave.

Nine-day event drew a copious crowd, with 102,000 tickets issued: 56,000 of those were sold to the public, while 46,000 went to fest sponsors or the 5,500 accredited fest attendees.

“It’s our first year, (and) I think we can be pretty happy, though there certainly are some kinks to smooth out,” said fest prexy Goffredo Bettini.

Among areas Bettini admitted fest needs to work on are overall subpar seat occupancy, as well as overflowing press screenings and snail-paced press conferences due to clunky interpreting.

But Robert De Niro provided the event with a grand finale when he attended a public interview and screened footage of his CIA thriller “The Good Shepherd” Saturday.

Dazzling, if a bit outre, 10-minute trailer of De Niro’s depiction of the CIA’s origins included a scene in which protag Matt Damon is urinated upon as he squirms in mud as part of an initiation rite into what appears to be Yale U.’s Skull & Bones secret society, from which early CIA agents allegedly were recruited.

“It’s kind of ambitious,” De Niro told the more than 1,500 fans packed into Rome’s Parco Della Musica Auditorium.

Budgeted at a reported $110 million, “The Good Shepherd” goes out Stateside via Universal Dec. 22. Medusa is releasing in Italy.

De Niro earlier in the day was handed an Italian passport by Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni. While the honorary Italo citizenship had long been in the works, process hit a snag in 2004, after a U.S.-based Italian-American advocacy group complained that the thesp’s mobster roles gave the country a bad name.

De Niro’s visit to the Eternal City also cemented the partnership between the RomeFilmFest and the Tribeca fest he co-founded.

He was just one of the many stars who helped the fest secure a spot on the international map — along with Sean Connery, Nicole Kidman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Gere, Monica Bellucci and Harrison Ford.

With its mix of crowd-pleasing pics like “The Departed” and more eclectic fare, the RomeFilmFest now constitutes concrete competition to the venerable Venice fest a month earlier.

Responding to calls for a Rome date change from some Italo industryites, Bettini said fest will be holding talks with top local industry reps to “examine the dates situation.” But it’s clear Rome will fight tooth and nail not to relinquish its October slot, which is ideal for its Business Street market, as it comes on the heels of Mipcom.

Mostly geared to European product, mart was attended by some 300 international buyers and sellers. Consensus was it could shape up into a significant biz booster for them.

Veteran Italo sales agent Adriana Chiesa sold Giuseppe Tornatore’s noirish “The Unknown” to seven territories right after its Rome world preem. Having screened in Rome, the Tornatore pic will not be unspooling at AFM, she said.

“We now have a world-class film event,” enthused Rome’s film buff Mayor Veltroni, who has already secured Sofia Loren to be feted at next year’s edition.

And the RomeFilmFest first edition winners are…

COMPETITION

FILM

“Playing the Victim” — Kirill Serebrennikov, Russia

ACTRESS

Ariane Ascaride — “Voyage to Armenia,” France

ACTOR

Giorgio Colangeli — “Salty Air,” Italy

SPECIAL JURY AWARD

“This Is England” — Shane Meadows, U.K.

ALICE IN THE CITY (CHILDREN’S SIDEBAR)

K-12 SECTION

“Liscio” — Claudio Antonini, Italy

YOUNG AUDIENCES SECTION

“Just Like the Son” — Morgan J. Freeman, U.S.

NON OFFICIAL PRIZES

BLOCKBUSTER PREMIERE AWARD

“The Unknown” — Giuseppe Tornatore, Italy

CULT NETWORK AWARD FOR DOCUMENTARY

“Deep Water” — Louise Osmond and Jerry Rothwell, U.K.

L.A.R.A. AWARD FOR ITALIAN PERFORMER

Ninetto Davoli — “Uno su Due,” Italy

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