At first blush, the Rome Film Festival seemed an unlikely prospect — an aspirational newcomer to the claustrophobically crowded fall festival calendar, scheduled only weeks after its venerable Venetian counterpart. Yet despite much initial raillery, the fest’s inaugural year proved a success, with stopovers from Martin Scorsese and Nicole Kidman drawing international eyeballs, and an eclectic array of films enticing the bizzers and the hoi polloi alike.
Now comes the hard part.
“We have been very fortunate to have enjoyed such immediate attention,” says fest president (and Italian Parliament member) Goffredo Bettini. “The difficulty will be to maintain it.”
In this context, Rome’s biggest adversary may well be its own ambitions. From its inception, it has aspired to become a major European festival, on par with Berlin and Cannes. And without the built-in prestige of a long reputation on which to coast, attracting marquee talent becomes a neccesity.
Of course, that doesn’t look to be a problem this year. Most notably, Francis Ford Coppola will journey out to world-preem “Youth Without Youth,” his first major helming effort since 1997. Cate Blanchett will attend for the Italo bow of “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” and appearances are expected from the likes of Terrence Malick, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke and Gael Garcia Bernal.
Yet while the lineup will certainly keep the photographers’ bay busy, importing foreign stars doesn’t go far in establishing a specific character for the nascent fest. With more than a half-century of history behind them, Europe’s other big fests could well withstand a few off-years, while Rome still has only the strength of its lineup to carry it.
Perhaps realizing that it can’t yet compete for prominence with Cannes and Berlin, Rome has adopted a more audience-oriented approach, with prizes awarded by a grand jury comprising 50 Continental civilians.
Bettini points to this populism as a defining characteristic.
“We’re convinced that the essence of great cinema is something that touches the hearts and minds of the whole audience, not just the cinephiles,” he says.
Bettini also claims particular pride that a number of Italo pics launched from the festival last year moved on to bigger things, including Guiseppe Tornatore’s “The Unknown” and Alessandro Angelini’s “L’aria salata,” both of which world premiered at Rome and went on to win numerous David di Donatello awards.
Bettini adds that fest organizers are constantly scouting new talent, “from independent cinema to documentaries, from excellent young European auteurs and new American talent to amateurs on the Web. The ideal would be a festival in which all of this is diffused in the city, like in Rotterdam or Toronto.”