The Rome Fiction Fest, now approaching its third edition, serves the vital purpose of injecting innovation into Italy’s growing TV production industry, which is poised on the brink of a possible quantum leap.

In a land where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi controls top commercial broadcaster Mediaset, TV holds particular influence on the collective consciousness. So in Italy it’s ever more important to celebrate the world’s quality telepics, minis and serials as a means to stimulate the country’s copious but often creatively anemic output of scripted content, in both artistic and industrial terms, especially at a time when broadcasters are becoming a bit bolder.

“All over the world, TV fiction is the quintessential pop entertainment,” says Rome Fiction Fest artistic director Steve Della Casa. “In making our selection, we found that it really is the main medium for various societies to tell their stories and represent their worlds.”

Della Casa, a RAI radio journo and former topper of the indie-geared Turin Film Festival who currently heads the Turin/Piedmont Film Commission, says his philosophy is “to cater to both audience and industry” in a spirit of basically educating both. The screenings are all free.

Bankrolled with a hefty $8.5 million budget provided by the surrounding Lazio region, the fiction extravaganza was conceived by local pols as the cornerstone of a drive to bolster the Rome area’s status as Italy’s TV production hub.

“Fiction is a strategic sector for us, given that 80% of Italian dramas are produced in Lazio, where the industry employs about 120,000 people,” says the fest’s executive director, Michele Misuraca, a close aide to Lazio governor Piero Marrazzo, who is a former RAI anchor and talkshow host.

Aiming to create more TV production jobs, the Rome region has thus embarked on a mission to help Italian dramas cross borders.

To that end, this year the fest is bowing its RomaTVScreenings showcase, marking the first concerted attempt to promote exports by the country’s main broadcasters. And Lazio has forged ties with the World Economic Forum, which will host a high-profile meet on media and entertainment in the Eternal City July 5-6. 

Meanwhile, on its own steam, the Rome Fiction Fest has gained traction with international broadcasters.

This year, Della Casa and his team have managed to secure a half-dozen world preems including hot Brit docudrama “Moonshot,” an ITV dramatization of the 1969 U.S. moon landing, by Richard Dale, to bow in Rome with lunar legend Buzz Aldrin in tow.

Other bows include TNT’s copshow “Leverage,” which will preem the first two installments of its second series; Icelandic mini “Hamarinn” (The Cliff), a crimer involving a policewoman in a rural community; “Grands reporters,” a reflection on journalism and love set amid war and famine in Chad, from Gaul’s ARTE; and “November Conspiracy” a thriller connected to the JFK assassination produced by Canada’s Devine Entertainment.

Among the gems is a montage by “City of God” helmer Fernando Meirelles of his Brazilian skein “Som e furia,” a remake of Canada’s superpopular “Slings and Arrows,” about the misadventures of folks running a theater festival.

Meirelles and “Lost” exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse will be among high-profile guests holding master classes in Rome, while Kenneth Branagh will make the trek to pick up a lifetime achievement award and to tubthump the BBC’s BAFTA-honored skein “Wallander,” in which he plays a tormented Swedish detective, and which Branagh also produced. Theirs are the types of shows the Italo industry can certainly learn from.