People’s party

Eternal City's new film festival mixes business with pleasure

Like most things in Rome, its nascent international film festival promises to be a laidback affair.

“Our watch-word is ‘relax,'” says fest topper Giorgio Gosetti, “We want to have fun, to play with cinema and introduce audiences to the pleasure of cinemagoing. In Italian we’ve called the event ‘festa,’ meaning ‘party,’ rather than ‘festival.’ ”

Behind the scenes, however, the new event, due to unspool for the first time Oct. 13-21, is one of the most ambitious festival projects to take shape in Europe for decades.

With a budget of E7 million ($8.6 million), it boasts a high-profile steering committee featuring former Venice Days chief Gosetti, film critic Mario Sesti, former Locarno vice director Teresa Cavina and film journalist Piera Detassis.

Between them they have decades of experience in the fest business. Their aim is to create a public-oriented city event that also appeals to an international crowd.

But how easy will it be to pull off this double remit? Although it’s been home to the Italian film industry since the 1930s, will Rome work as a fest backdrop? And coming just one month after Venice shutters, won’t it be in competition with the lagoon event for talent, pics and trade?

“The spirit of the Rome festival is very different from that of Venice. There will be titles that work for Venice and titles that work for Rome,” says Gosetti, who devised the format with Sesti.

“From the beginning we knew the Cannes-Venice-Berlin model wasn’t for us. There is increasingly less space for the public at the big festivals. We wanted to create an event where the public take centerstage. We drew inspiration from festivals such as London and Toronto.”

Indeed, both London’s head honcho Adrian Wootton and Toronto supremo Piers Handling are attached to the fest in advisory roles.

At the same time, fest hopes to attract some 300 buyers and 100 sellers to a dedicated industry event, dubbed the Business Street, taking place over three days.

Under the initiative, hotels in and around Via Veneto, the road immortalized by Federico Fellini in “La dolce vita,” will lay on screening and business facilities for visiting industryites.

The Hotel Excelsior will house a video library while the Hotel Barberini will host a business meeting lounge on its rooftop terrace, with views across the city.

“The aim is to foster business in a relaxed atmosphere,” explains Business Street manager Sylvain Auzou. “We’re targeting the smaller buyers who used to go to Mifed and can’t afford to or don’t want to go to the AFM. That said, we have no intention of trying to replace Mifed. There won’t be any stands or booths.”

In terms of product, Auzou is targeting world preems, titles that have debuted elsewhere on the autumn circuit and pics in the fest.

In its first edition, fest will feature 80 titles spread across five sections: Premiere, Competition, the Actor’s Craft, the kid-oriented Alice in the City and Extra (aimed at experimental fare).

A 50-strong people’s jury presided over by Italian helmer Ettore Scola will dish out the E200,000 ($242,000) prize to the best film.

Rome’s state-of-the-art Auditorium complex will be the heart of the public fest, although screenings and related events are expected to spill out onto piazzas in the city’s historic center as well as theaters in the suburbs.

The recently opened Casa della Cinema, headed by former Venice topper Felice Laudadio and situated in the Borghese Gardens halfway between the auditorium and Via Veneto, is planning a Marcello Mastroianni retrospective.

Nominally, Detassis is in charge of the Premiere gala screenings in the Auditorium’s 2,500-seat Santa Cecilia Theater; Sesti is overseeing the Actor’s Craft; Cavina is heading up the international selection; and Gianluca Gianelli is coordinating Alice in the City.

“We each have our individual sections, but in reality the selection is a group process,” says Cavina, who admits to a shift in focus after catering for the cinefile audiences of Locarno for eight years.

Having departed that lakeside fest in August, she is already back on the circuit, checking out upcoming titles and explaining her new remit.

What has the international response been so far?

“Most people I speak to aren’t surprised we’re setting up a festival in Rome, but rather that it hasn’t happened sooner,” Cavina says.

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