Ten years after launching with imperial ambitions, the Rome Film Festival may be finding its more realistic footing as a big city fest like many others, albeit with more flair provided by new artistic director Antonio Monda, an ambitious multihyphenate with ties to the U.S. film and literary worlds.
An associate professor of film at NYU, Monda is also a New York-based arts events organizer and Italo journalist with a penchant for hobnobbing with high-profile arts figures, including Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, thanks to dinners he holds in his Upper West Side apartment where people come not to see and be seen but “for an exchange of ideas,” he says. And also the great food.
He is co-founder with Richard Pena of the “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema” screenings at Lincoln Center in New York and has curated shows at the American Museum of the Moving Image and other institutions.
“I believe in one very precise thing: there is no need for another film festival in Italy, especially one month after Venice, and one month before Turin,” he says about his vision for Rome, which at its outset in 2006 was perceived as a potential threat to Venice.
Instead, “there is a need for something new, which is very close to the original spirit of the event: a ‘festa,’ meaning a celebration of cinema,” Monda explains.
Accordingly, gone is the competition, and therefore juries. Opening and closing ceremonies have been scrapped, the lineup has been substantially slimmed down to 37 titles, and the paparazzi are going to be hurting, given that stars are not a priority.
“I love glamour but that’s not the heart of the event,” Monda maintains. “My starting point is the movies. How many times have we seen film festivals that take movies just in order to have a star on the red carpet?” he laments.
Rome will open today (Oct. 16) with the European preem of James Vanderbilt’s “Truth,” with the director in tow and also Mary Mapes, the former CBS News producer played by Cate Blanchett in the depiction of the “Memogate” controversy that ended CBS anchorman Dan Rather’s career at the broadcaster. Producers Andy Spaulding, William Sherak, and Bradley Fisher have also made the trek.
By contrast, the fest’s first edition opened a decade ago with Nicole Kidman tubthumping the world preem of Steven Shainberg’s “Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus,” prompting unsubstantiated speculation that what was then the Eternal City extravaganza had shelled out cash for Kidman to come.
“Our budget is 3.6 million Euros,” says Monda. “The first year it was 17 million. It’s a drastic reduction, but I’m not bothered.”
His solid lineup includes European launches of Michael Almereyda’s “The Experimenter,” Peter Sollett’s “Freehold,” Lenny Abrahamson’s “Room,” Paul Thomas Anderson’s docu “Junun,” and New York fest opener “The Walk,” by Robert Zemeckis.
There are also potential discoveries unspooling, such as young Russian director Vladimir Beck’s rite of passage drama “Little Bird,” and Italo first-timer Gabriele Mainetti’s already buzzed-about superhero spoof “They Call Me Jeeg Robot.”
But Monda’s point of pride is the high-caliber roster of speakers he’s recruited for onstage conversations, which will kick off today with Joel Coen and Frances McDormand, who will explore the relationship between husband and wife on-set, while Wes Anderson and author Donna Tartt will talk about their love for Italian cinema. Rome conversations also include William Friedkin and Dario Argento holding forth on their influence on each other.
As a rookie film fest director, what Monda lacks in experience he makes up in self-regard.
“All festival directors had to debut,” he says. “I feel I’m more of an expert than many others were when they started out,” he adds citing, among others, Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux.
That’s debatable. Before being appointed at Cannes, Fremaux was artistic director of France’s revered Institute Lumiere and had reportedly declined the offer of heading the Cinematheque Francais.
But for Rome in its current incarnation Monda, who has a three-year contract, certainly seems the right man.