Mueller sees U.S. in Rome fest mix

New a.d. wants new timeslot to coincide with holiday pics

ROME — Now that former Venice Film Festival topper Marco Mueller has finally managed to make his move from the Lido to Rome, should the international film community prepare for a Spaghetti Western-style showdown between the two high-profile Italo events, or could a more Zen-like co-existence be possible?

Early indications are that while competition between Venice and Rome will indeed increase, Mueller — who was acrimoniously ousted from his Venice post in December — is maneuvering to make the two fests more complementary, and to make Rome more integral to the release strategies of Hollywood film during the holiday season.

Mueller is still in early talks about how he’d like to reshape Rome, discussing key points with new fest prexy Paolo Ferrari, formerly topper of Warner Bros. Italy, and with the fest’s board.

But he maintains that Rome should “become one of the major events in the third quarter” by moving from its current Oct. 18-26 slot — slightly more than one month after Venice — to the third week in November to tie in to promotion and release strategies with the holiday period in the U.S. that begins around Thanksgiving.

Mueller’s Rome plan seems likely to find favor with U.S. distributors.

“After years of working very well together with Marco in Venice, we are of course very pleased to hear that he has taken over the reins of the Rome Film Festival,” Weinstein Co. topper Harvey Weinstein tells Variety. “We look forward to any of the changes he plans to bring to this new opportunity, including the possibility of moving the festival to later in the year.”

As for the actual fest, Mueller is keeping mum about his main lineup. But word in Italo industry circles is he’s got Quentin Tarantino’s Spaghetti Western-inspired “Django Unchained,” from the Weinstein Co., sewn up for a star-studded Rome preem.

“We will really try to focus on the most creative part of commercial cinema and the most accessible part of artistic cinema,” Mueller says.

In Italy, the prospect of a Rome date change prompted pandemonium when the small but respected Turin Film Festival accused Rome of trying to crowd its November dates, causing Rome mayor Gianni Alemanno to assure that the Rome fest will stay in its October slot this year. Turin will run Nov. 23-Dec. 1.

But within the Italo industry, consensus seems to be that Mueller’s plans make sense.

“(The proximity of the timing of) Rome and Venice has always created cutthroat competition, with Marco, until now, pushing heavily against Rome,” says Medussa topper Giampaolo Letta. “Whatever slot you take, you are going to step on somebody’s toes; so you just have to decide who you are going to be at war with.” .

A Rome date change poses a problem with venues. The center of the Eternal City’s activities — from screenings to panels and meetings — is the Renzo Piano-designed Auditorium Parco della Musica which has, so far, always been booked in November by music events. Mueller has been mulling alternate venues.

Another key component of Mueller’s makeover is his aspiration to boost Rome’s market side, maximizing synergy with Italy’s historic film industry hub to provide more international biz opportunities for local operators. In this respect, Venice, which recently announced plans for a small market component is both geographically insular and limited by its temporal proximity with Toronto.

Rome’s informal Business Street mart, now located on the Via Veneto, has become a major meeting place, says Mueller, who now plans to make the leap next year to a formal market with booths and stands with a strong Euro-Asian accent in a post-AFM slot.

Significantly, the day after being appointed, Mueller, an Asian cinephile fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, jetted to Hong Kong’s Filmart on the first leg of an international tour that will also include stops, by both Ferrari and himself, in Los Angeles and New York.

But there is a broader aspect to Mueller’s Rome vision, which includes creating multiple events throughout the year, starting with summer premieres in the Roman Forum.

“I spent a lot of time visiting the Forum,” Mueller says, pointing out that he’s been there frequently enough while imagining what could be done in that unique location to have gotten a sunburn on his bald spot.

His dreams for the summer sidebar include bowing the final complete restored version of Abel Ganz’s “Napoleon,” which Zoetrope has been working on with several film archives, as well as the 3D version of Bernardo Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor,” on which Jeremy Thomas is putting the finishing touches, according to Mueller.

But the new Rome topper cautions that extent of his vision will depend largely on his budget, which is still being determined, along with the length of his mandate.

The 2011 Rome budget was around $12 million, 70% of which came from sponsors, while the venerable Venice fest last year had around $10 million, mostly from taxpayers. Rome, however, has a gaping budget hole reportedly as high as $2.5 million, due to overspending by previous management and unpaid funds owed by the Lazio region.

“I will need to respond to what Rome wants and what Rome has to offer,” Mueller says.

But the impression that Mueller is swimming in shark-infested political waters following the protracted impasse that delayed his getting the job, is not entirely accurate. It’s true that the battle, which blurred left/right party lines, was very polarized, and impediments remain. But Mueller has strong allies, including the solid backing of Italo motion picture association Anica.

“If politics continue to get in Marco’s way, we could simply decide to boycott Rome and kill it off,” says a prominent Italo producer.

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