Rome International Film Festival

The film festival faces a challenge to prove itself on the international circuit this year

Marco Müller remains at the helm for the festival's eighth edition, which runs from 8-17 November, but has a busy and difficult time ahead. Last year, leadership challenges and inter-programme politics left the Rome International Film Festival with questions to answer.

Müller, formerly artistic director of the Venice Film Festival for eight years, took up his new position in Rome in May 2012, much to the displeasure of the festival’s former president Gian Luigi Rondi. Supported by then mayor Gianni Alemanno and new festival president Paolo Ferrari, Müller was able to wrangle an unprecedented 60 world premieres for the seventh edition at very short notice, among which was Bullet to the Head starring Sylvester Stallone. Unfortunately, audiences embraced only a few features enthusiastically, and the turnout suffered a 17 per cent decrease from the previous year.

With a shaky start behind him, Müller faced further challenges this year, specifically in relation to the festival’s finances. When Ignazio Marino defeated mayor Alemanno, a strong supporter of the festival, many wondered if the event would fizzle out without funding, especially amid Italy’s economic turmoil. Though public stakeholders such as Rome's city administration and the Lazio regional government have approved Müller’s €11 million budget, in mid-October the festival was still waiting for all the funds to come in.

If everything goes as planned, and there is much planned, the eighth edition will attract audiences with lower ticket price packages, some starting at €3, and a programme with Müller’s own brand of international flair. Müller, who recently won the Premio Gorky’s “special prize for the contribution to worldwide culture” for promoting Russian cinema, continues to steer Rome’s festival towards being internationally inclusive. This is particularly evident in his choice of American directors James Gray and Larry Clark to chair the judge panels this year.

Running from 8-17 November, the festival will use all of the spaces at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, which can seat more than 4,000 people, and will also hold events at Rome’s MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle Arti del XXI Secolo.

The festival comprises four official film categories: competition, out of competition, CinemaXXI, and Prospects Doc Italy.

Competition. The competition section will screen the world premiere of 16 feature-length films; premiered films qualify as long as they have not been shown outside of their country of origin.

This year’s announced titles include Jean-Marc Vallée’s Dallas Buyer’s Club, with Matthew McConaughey starring as an HIV-positive patient fighting with doctors over his treatment; Spike Jonze’s Her, about a man enamoured with his computer operating system, starring Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and the voice of Scarlett Johansson; Scott Cooper’s Out of the Furnace, a thriller in which Christian Bale and Casey Affleck star as brothers; and Isabel Coixet’s Another Me, featuring Game of Thrones’s Sophie Turner.

James Gray, a filmmaking veteran, will chair a panel of seven judges to award the following: Golden Marc’Aurelio awards for best film, best director, special jury prize, best actor, best actress, emerging actor or actress, best technical contribution, and best screenplay. Attendees can get in on the action and vote electronically for their favourite movie to win the BNL audience award for best film.

Out of Competition. The hors concours section includes gala screenings of 12 world, international, and European premiere films including opening comedy L’ultima Ruota del Carro (The Fifth Wheel) by Giovanni Veronesi, highlighting humour in Italian living, and Francis Lawrence’s The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson, who will attend the Rome gala’s red carpet along with Liam Hemsworth. Also of note is the film Young Detective Dee: Rise of the Sea Dragon 3D directed by Tsui Hark, who will receive the “Maverick Director Award” because “he has reinterpreted the Chinese filmmaking tradition, turning the codes and conventions of western cinema upside down,” according to Müller.

Also celebrating new trends in world cinema is the CinemaXXI category, taking place at the MAXXI. Vincenzo Marra’s L’amministratore, a comment on contemporary Italy through the story of a building administrator in Naples, is the opening film. The spotlight piece of this category is Fear of Falling by Jonathan Demme, director of Silence of the Lambs. Judging CinemaXXI is Larry Clark, described by the festival as one of the most important directors of the past 50 years and whose film Marfa Girl won the festival’s highest award, the Golden Marc’Aurelio, last year.

Prospects Doc Italy. This section showcases new trends in Italian documentary filmmaking with eight feature-length premiere films. It opens with Marco Santarelli’s Lettera al Presidente, which focuses on Italians, from post-war to present day, who have written to the president to seek help in solving a problem or realising a dream. In addition to the main film categories, the Alice nella città section will cater to a younger audience with 14 world, international and European-premiere films as an autonomous side event.

But the festival has more to offer than just passive observation: attendees have the opportunity to meet actors and directors like Demme and Hark as well as participate in master classes. Also, participants can visit the Film Market at Via Veneto where The Business Street (TBS) promotes Italian films for sale and distribution abroad, and New Cinema Network helps those working on international projects to network, develop and finance their films.

To prepare the city for the cinematic celebration, Rome has just wrapped up a three-part film series that began in September and served to usher in the main film festival. The series entertained film fanatics with classics such as Pietro Germi’s Divorzio all’Italiana, well-known recent documentaries, and “MAXXI/Previews”, which gave viewers sneak peeks at films new to Italy. Visit the film festival’s official website to find out details on tickets and more.

Sarah Barchus

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