Fall Fest Preview 2011: Rome Film Festival

Six years after bursting on the fest circuit, the Rome Film Festival is, understandably, still sharpening its identity. But what keeps becoming clearer each year, is that Italo pols rep a systematic stumbling block to the Eternal City Extravaganza’s search for its true self.

The latest political turbulence took place in May at Cannes, when newly installed Italo culture czar Giancarlo Galan blasted Rome and rekindled pointless frictions with Venice, claiming that “it’s odd, to say the least,” to have two big fests competing with each other in Italy, a situation that, he warned, “risks weakening both events.”

Galan is former governor of the Veneto region comprising the city of Venice, which helps put those comments into perspective.

“They (Venice and Rome) are two different beasts, and they can co-exist,” counters Cattleya topper Riccardo Tozzi, who is head of Italy’s motion picture association, Anica.

“Venice is Italy’s great international festival. Rome is a celebration of cinema with a different scope. It’s good for the city; it’s good as a showcase for Italian cinema and as a currently quite small but important market.”

And, Tozzi adds, “It’s not that by killing Rome, you make Venice any stronger.”

In fact, quite the opposite. It’s unquestionable that Rome’s arrival on the scene has forced Venice to start taking action to address the Lido’s age-old infrastructure issues.

That, according to Rome artistic director Piera Detassis, is the main reason behind the acrimony.

“I think Venice knows it has a problem, even though it remains a great brand,” Detassis says. “But, instead of saying, ‘We have a problem. We need to improve our infrastructure, the Lido, the palazzo, the hotels and all that — because otherwise we run the risk of being marginalized,’ they preferred to attack Rome.”

In order for the Rome fest to stabilize its identity, she says, “We need the politicians to lay off. They need to resign themselves to the fact that this festival exists and they must stop messing around with it and accept it for what it is.”

In May, in a telling twist, right-wing Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno rallied to Rome’s rescue, telling the culture czar, who is also a right-winger, “not to touch” the event.

Ironically, during his 2008 campaign, Alemanno himself ranted against the Rome fest as being emblematic of the wasteful ways of his leftist film-buff predecessor, Walter Veltroni. But Alemanno has since become a somewhat reluctant supporter.

Significantly, despite the political pawing and Italy’s economic crisis, Rome’s budget remains unvaried from last year: a hefty ?13 million ($18.5 million), 69% of which comes from sponsors, ticket sales, and other private sources.

As for tweaks, “This is a year of resistance,” says Detassis, whose ideal models remain big metropolitan fests, like Berlin and Toronto. “No big changes. You need stronger political shoulders for that.”

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