Detassis raises programming bar in refining lineup

ROME — Having weathered a storm, Rome Film Festival artistic director Piera Detassis is determined to maintain the bar molto high for the Eternal City extravaganza.

A spell of Italo political turbulence cast a dark cloud last year over the fest, though the uncertainty was rather rapidly dispelled as it became clear that this creature of Rome’s former leftist mayor, Walter Veltroni, would not be killed off by his right-wing successor Gianni Alemanno, and that budget cuts dictated by the economic crisis will not drastically hurt the fest’s deep pockets.

Formerly in charge of Rome’s high-profile gala section, Detassis, who is editor of Italy’s top mainstream film mag, Ciak, is now playing a more central role, overseeing the entire event besides specifically running the fest’s gala and competition sections.

Detassis was promoted by fest prexy Gianluigi Rondi, the octogenarian former Venice topper; the duo are remaking Rome into a “more orderly” metropolitan fest with a tighter focus.

“Less movies; less events overlapping with each other and perhaps cannibalizing each other” is how Detassis describes what she assures “will still be a massive movie marathon.”

A key change is that, now that Detassis is in charge of both the galas and the competition, the boundaries between the two sections have become much more flexible. This means upping the level of the competition to include name directors and star-driven pics.

Rome, in line with its identity as an audience-driven fest, started out having a jury of selected regular Roman film buffs, but this year it’s Milos Forman who will head a jury roster of prestigious pros.

“I have understood that having a big name like Forman gives the competition added value,” she says.

In a year in which major studios are targeting their investments to the last penny, the Rome red carpet is likely to suffer — the gala side will be more subdued, while the competition will be stronger.

But the main thing is that Rome’s sponsors, which account for 66% of its budget, haven’t pulled out. And the $2.6 million cut made by municipal and other public coin sources still leaves Rome with an approximately $17 million budget, which is $3 million less than Berlin but on a par with Venice.

“The festival is now a well-oiled machine that has learned to maximize its resources,” says Rome’s general manager, Francesca Via, who notes the fest is estimated to generate a windfall of more than $300 million for businesses in the city, mostly in the tourism sector.

As for movies, the first announced titles are the out-of-competish Italo preem of Sony’s “Julie and Julia,” with star Meryl Streep also to be feted with a Golden Aurelius nod and booked for an onstage Q&A sesh.

Three Italian titles vying in the Rome competish will be Sicilian costumer “Viola di mare,” by Donatella Majorca; “Alza la testa,” a boxing drama by hot young helmer Alessandro Angelini (“Salty Air”) toplining Sergio Castellitto; and World War II resistance drama “L’uomo che verra” by Giorgio Diritti, starring Maya Sansa and Alba Rohrwacher.

Meanwhile, Rome’s Extra section, comprising cutting-edge pics and special events, is breaking out a subsection titled Earthquakes, dedicated to docus about the deadly quake that struck Italy’s Abruzzo region in April.

Extra will also feature an onstage conversation between helmers Giuseppe Tornatore and Gabriele Muccino, who are probably the best-known Italo helmers outside national confines.

“I don’t like to call it a more populist fest, but I would say it has a warmer heart,” says Detassis about her selection criteria and the fest’s overall spirit. “We want directors and stars to come through and be in contact with the public.”

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