Rome aims to woo awards season hopefuls

Fall Fest Preview 2012

With Marco Mueller in place as new artistic director, the Rome Film Festival is being completely reconfigured with a clear intent: to become a top-tier global launching pad for hot new films in the year’s fourth quarter, helping to kick off the U.S. awards season.

Mueller has doggedly been pursuing this ambitious goal since December, when the former Venice topper officially threw his hat in the ring to head Rome, a young fest that, despite game efforts over its previous six editions, never made the type of international splash it was striving for.

The cornerstone of Mueller’s Rome reconstruction plan is his date change from October to its current Nov. 9-17 slot, positioning it as a promotional venue for winter holiday season pics, two months after Venice and Toronto and three months before Berlin.

“I consulted with some of the key producers and sales agents in the international arena, and they told me, ‘move the festival to November, always end it on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and you will give us the platform that we need,’ ” he recounts.

The other key to Mueller’s makeover is that he is raising the bar by vowing to show 60 world premieres, whereas past editions showed many pics that had already surfaced at other fests. This, in turn, should give the event a big industry boost.

Rome’s informal Business Street mart — running Nov. 14-17, a week after the American Film Market wraps in Santa Monica and roughly two weeks before the Ventana Sur market in Buenos Aires — “will pretty much be about the films that are at the festival this time,” says Mueller.

The goal is to attract up to 400 industryites with key contingents coming from Asia and Latin America, in addition to European buyers and North Americans. The best-case scenario is that many will arrive during the second half of Rome, keen to snap up pics that have not premiered at AFM.

“All the Asian world sales (personnel) said, ‘Finally you are giving us a festival that is very close to our mid-December releases’ because it helps them with their piracy problem,” says Mueller.

He adds that a number of major players have been telling him they hadn’t realized that they needed an extra fest to unspool between Venice, Telluride, Toronto and Berlin.

Rome’s main competition will have a maximum of 15 films plus up to six out-of-competition galas. The more cutting-edge CinemaXXI section will include up to 15 more works in various formats on the cusp between film and other visual arts. And a Perspectives Italy section will see up to 14 Italo pics representing new local trends.

It’s a format that follows in the footsteps of the fest structure Mueller put in place at Venice during his eight-year stint. This, of course, raises the question of whether Venice and Rome will be able to coexist.

“So far I have not felt any competition from Rome,” says new Venice topper Alberto Barbera. He notes that the increased date distance is good, adding, “Most movies these days don’t wait for the ‘right’ festival to get released.”

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