New fest topper adds weight to competition

Circa May 2008, the Rome Film Festival seemed on the brink of collapse, weakened by civil warfare within the Eternal City, where Mayor Walter Veltroni, who had started the ambitious event in 2005, stepped down after losing an election to noncinephile right-winger Gianni Alemanno.

During the election campaign, Alemanno slammed the deep-pocketed startup film festival as a handout to Hollywood, and he attacked Veltroni for his fondness for lunching on Capitoline Hill with the likes of Tom Cruise and George Clooney. When elected, Alemanno seemingly sounded the fest’s death knell, saying Rome should promote Italian movies instead of Hollywood stars.

Cut to June 2008, and enter Gian Luigi Rondi, the razor-sharp 86-year-old film critic and former Venice topper. Rondi took the reins from Goffredo Bettini, Veltroni’s right-hand man, in a bipartisan-brokered handover intended to remove the perception that the Rome fest was Veltroni’s baby, and, given Rondi’s prestigious standing in the film biz, keep Alemanno at bay.

So far, the move seems to have worked.

Hollywood on the red carpet is no longer an issue; the fest’s budget, at $24 million, some $20 million of which comes from corporate sponsors, remains imperial, and so are its ambitions, though doubts persist about its future.

Doubts that Rondi is quick to brush off.

“Our path is well-charted. Now I think we have a good chance of raising our profile,” he says. confidently.

One thing is sure: Rondi knows a lot about assembling a film festival, having launched four of them and having directed Venice for six years.

His first moves have been to merge the gala section with the competition into a 20-title Official Selection, which will also comprise an ample number of pics screening outside the competition while giving the contest a more substantial feel. Titles such as Saul Dibb’s “The Duchess” and Germany’s “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” will unspool in glamour Premieres section as part of the Official Selection.

Rondi also has resolved Rome’s lack of a real director by appointing former premiere topper Piera De Tassis, editor of leading Italo film mag Ciack, as artistic coordinator of the fest’s five sections, each of which has its own topper. This bandleader role had been held the first year by competition section and market chief Giorgio Gosetti, but had subsequently been taken over by Bettini.

“It should simplify things and help us find a stronger identity, which I think we need,” De Tassis says.

Regarding identity, one thing Rondi is adamant about is avoiding any kind of clash with Venice, and the Rome fest may benefit from the fact that so many big American movies weren’t ready for the early-autumn festivals.

“There are fall releases that aren’t ready for Venice, and those are the movies that will go to Rome,” he says.

So the paradox is that, with Veltroni and Bettini out of office, Rome could grow into a more focused affair, if the pols continue to support it — and keep their hands off.

That’s a big if.

“The issue is whether we can convince our detractors that we are not useless, and also that the fest is not against them,” De Tassis says, “because in a country where love for movies has always had a leftist connotation, the center-right is basically afraid of cinema.”

TIP SHEET
When:
Oct. 22-31
Where: Rome, Italy
Web:romacinemafest.it

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