Stars, biz turn out despite political rumbles

ROME — For a fest that just five months ago was teetering due to political turmoil, the third Rome Film Festival pulled off a rather remarkable feat: it didn’t feel makeshift.

Sure, there were fewer Hollywood stars. But after Al Pacino pranced down the red carpet opening day, enough international talent followed — including Colin Farrell, Gael Garcia Bernal, Monica Bellucci, Asia Argento, Meena Suvari, Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen — to keep the paparazzi nearly pacified.

More importantly, Rome has maintained the multidisciplinary spirit that is becoming its defining trait. Where else can you see David Cronenberg onstage recounting his refusal to direct “Top Gun” after checking out a show of enlarged frames from “The Fly,” “Videodrome,” “Dead Ringers” and other Cronenberg works printed on canvas and hanging in a museum? Or hear Caetano Veloso perform live following a screening of “Wandering Heart,” Fernando Grostein Andrade’s docu about the Brazilian pop sensation?

Like Tribeca and Berlin, the Eternal City’s cinema extravaganza is conceived as a big metropolitan affair, generally more populist than Venice, which doesn’t mean entirely devoid of eclectic fare. The range in pics ran from “High School Musical 3: Senior Year,” this year’s hottest ticket, to Mohammad Shirvani’s Iranian experimental docu “7 Blind Women Filmmakers.”

Unlike the Lido, which has no market, a key Rome component is its informal Business Street mart held in hotels and movie theaters on and around the Via Veneto, which has seen some decline since its “La Dolce Vita” days.

The turnout for the pre-AFM bazaar was on a par with last year — 260 selected international buyers, and about 100 sellers — with companies including Summit, Wild Bunch, Fortissimo, Celluloid Dreams, and Italy’s Adriana Chiesa Enterprises in attendance, and 40 market preems among the 127 pics unspooling.

Adriana Chiesa boasted brisk biz on Bellucci-starring Italo meller “The Man Who Loves,” which was the fest opener. Other deals that originated in Rome will likely close at the AFM. What’s clear is that many European industryites don’t consider a meet-up closer to home between Toronto and Santa Monica a waste of time.

Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno, the right-winger who in May replaced Walter Veltroni, the leftist film-buff pol who established the fest, welcomed industryites at a chaotic dinner held in the city’s modernist Mussolini-era EUR quarter on the city’s outskirts.

“Rome is your home,” said Alemanno, who is known to have been a neo-Fascist in his youth and was mulling killing off Veltroni’s baby when he took over. As hordes of guests struggled to reach the pasta at the buffet tables, talk was of whether the new regime’s backing of the fest will last.

Politics have always permeated Rome. There were fewer high-caliber pols on the catwalk this edition compared to last year when Veltroni strutted through with Tom Cruise and Robert Redford. But there was such a barrage of requests for free tickets from lower-level city administration officials that organizers, albeit reluctantly, set up a special politico tickets hot line.

Mortensen, who was doing double duty for both warmly received Ed Harris-helmed western “Appaloosa” and Brazilian helmer Vincente Amorim’s Nazism-themed drama “Good,” made Italo headlines by comparing Italo premier Silvio Berlusconi and President Bush to Hitler. A couple of days earlier Italian students faced off with riot police on the red carpet where they had staged a sit-in to protest against Berlusconi’s cutbacks on education.

“I am just interested in cinema; politics have to stay outside,” said Gianluigi Rondi, the octogenerian onetime Venice topper installed by Alemanno as fest prexy. That sounds like the right vision for Rome’s future.

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