ROME — The upcoming Rome Film Festival (Oct. 13-23) will feature several novelties, including a drive-in theater specially set up on the city’s outskirts; a red carpet rolled out on the fashionable Via Condotti for an open-air “Roman Holiday” event in front of the Spanish Steps; and screenings in the city’s Rebibbia penitentiary. For regular fest-goers, the lineup offers a mix of crowd-pleasers and more esoteric titles.
Artistic director Antonio Monda, at the helm for his second edition, spoke to Variety about his renewed efforts to revamp the Eternal City’s festival. Excerpts:
You’ve picked the cream of the fall festival crop, and also landed some world premieres. What can you tell me about potential discoveries launching this year from Rome?
First off I’m very happy about the opener, “Moonlight,” one of the year’s top films, which I think is headed for Oscar glory. Though it’s not a crowd-pleaser, I’m proud of our choice. We are not hell-bent on world premieres, but we do like to discover new works. Most of our premieres are Italian. That said, we have [Chinese director] Derek Yee’s “Sword Master 3D,” which is a lovely picture. The Italian discovery we are proud of is “Maria per Roma,” a first work [by Karen di Porto], a comedy with the atmosphere of [Gianni di Gregorio’s] “Mid-August Lunch” and a narrative approach reminiscent of early Nanni Moretti. Then among other premieres we have an Iranian film, Mehdi Fard Ghaderi’s “Immortality,” which is shot in a single take. And we have several Latin American works, including Mexican director Natalia Almada’s “Todo lo demas” (“Everything Else”), which is world-premiering in Rome and also playing, a few hours later, in New York. I asked them for the world premiere because I needed to raise my premieres quota.
Rome seems to be turning into a bigger promotional platform for Italian movies than Venice, especially since last year it launched “They Call Me Jeeg,” which went on to become a sleeper hit. Are Italian distributors now opting for Rome vis-a-vis Venice?
Venice historically has been a double-edged sword for Italian movies. That said, I’m very selective about the titles we take, and I think this pays off. I have four strong titles this year. One, “Maria per Roma,” is a first work; the others are solid important works by established directors. I am surprised that Daniele Vicari’s “Sun, Heart, Love” did not emerge earlier on the festival circuit. Michele Placido’s “7 Minuti” is a powerful drama, and “Naples ’44” is an engaging documentary bursting with energy that can play on a par with any feature and I think is going to make a splash.
So you don’t think Italian cinema is in a rut? That seemed to be the message in Venice.
No, I don’t. Venice had [Edoardo de Angelis’] “Indivisible” [in Venice Days, and then in Toronto], which I would have taken gladly. It’s true that when I talk to directors they feel more protected in Rome, which may partly have to do with the fact that we really believe in their films.
The onstage conversations are one of the event’s components closest to your heart. What are some of this year’s names you are most proud of which also best represent Rome’s specificity on the global fest circuit?
We have Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, David Mamet, just to name a few; the bar is very high. One of the traits I want for Rome is to not just have movie people, but also people [from other fields] who talk about movies. We will have [Italian rapper] Jovanotti talking about his favorite movies; Don De Lillo will talk for an hour about Michelangelo Antonioni. I am surprised that no other festival thought about inviting David Mamet, a giant whose talent of course is not specific to movies, though he has done great things in the film sphere. Then we have Gilbert & George, two visual artists who will come to talk about their favorite karate movie.
Standouts among special events this year are a drive-in cinema at EUR, Rome’s modernist district; an open-air screening of William Wyler’s “Roman Holiday” in the Piazza di Spagna with a red carpet on the Via Condotti and Gregory Peck’s progeny expected; but also screenings in Rome’s Rebibbia penitentiary. What is your thinking about this aspect?
We are catering to different realities in Rome. I really cared about the drive-in idea: going out to have fun, with burgers and popcorn. Going to the movies like in the ’60s and ’70s to get away from it all for a couple of hours. But at the same time I wanted to bring movies to those who don’t usually get to see them. This festival is a dialogue with all different Romans – with the upper-class lady who will come out for a gala evening in Piazza di Spagna, with the folks behind bars, and also with lovers who can get in a car and go do what you do when you go to a drive-in.