New direction at Rome Film Festival

Under the stewardship of its newly-appointed artistic director Marco Müller, the seventh International Rome Film Festival has departed from its previous October schedule and this year takes place from 9 – 17 November.

The move, which puts Rome between heavyweight festivals Toronto and Venice in September, London in October and Berlin in February, was a strategic attempt to draw more attention to the festival’s Business Street film market, as well as launching winter release movies targeting the holiday box office or angling for Oscar nominations in spring. However it drew heavy criticism from the Turin Festival, which now opens a mere six days after the Rome event closes. Turin initially requested Rome to delay implementing its new dates until 2013 – giving the northern city adequate time to reschedule next year’s festival – but the appeal fell on deaf ears.

The festival programme is rich geographically and the 26 countries represented include Japan, Poland, Mexico, Russia, Brazil, Nicaragua, Thailand and the Philippines. The main competition has 15 films, including two movies from US directors: The Motel Life by Gabe and Alan Polsky and Marfa Girl by Larry Clark; the out-of-competition section contains Mental by Australia’s P.J. Hogan, while among the films in the Perspectives Italy section, dedicated to new trends in Italian cinema, is a tribute to Italy’s popular comedian Carlo Verdone.

Müller’s journey back to his native Rome began immediately after his unceremonious Christmas dismissal as artistic director of the Venice Film Festival, where he had served for eight years before being replaced by film critic Alberto Barbera. Müller’s Rome nomination was firmly supported by the capital’s mayor Gianni Alemanno, as well as former Lazio governor Renata Polverini, but resisted by then incumbent Rome festival president Gian Luigi Rondi. A protracted power struggle ensued. The nonagenarian Rondi, who served as president since 2008, sought to delay the departure of outgoing artistic director Piera Detassis by at least a year. He eventually gave up and in February was replaced as president by Paolo Ferrari, who had been head of Warner Bros Italia for the last 21 years.

On taking up his new role in May, Müller wasted little time putting his stamp on the festival. This year’s eclectic line-up includes an ambitious 60 world premieres, a showcase of new trends in contemporary film, and an array of initiatives devoted to Italian cinema.

The most famous Hollywoodiano making an appearance was veteran Sylvester Stallone, star of one of the festival’s principal premieres, Bullet to the Head. Its director is America’s Walter Hill who was responsible for producing the Alien film series and is also known for directing movies starring some of Hollywood’s best-loved tough guys. Stallone was present when Hill received Rome’s inaugural Maverick Director Award in recognition of his ground-breaking films.

Other Hollywood stars include Jude Law, James Franco, Bill Murray, Stephen Dorff, Adrien Brody and Matthew Modine, while Oscar-winning American actor Sean Penn will receive the Variety Humanitarian of the Year Award on 17 November, in recognition of his charity work in Haiti. 

The other major movies premiering in Rome are A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III by Roman Coppola, son of celebrated director Francis Ford Coppola; the animated Rise of the Guardians, and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2, which is the highlight of the teenage section Alice in the City.

When Müller began selecting titles for the festival in early summer he was assisted by a committee which included Sandra Hebron, who recently departed her post as artistic director of London’s BFI Festival after eight years.

One thing that Müller has been extremely keen on is reinforcing the festival’s business aspect. The informal Business Street will see negotiations taking place in the general Via Veneto area from Casa del Cinema in Villa Borghese down to Cinema Barberini, and Müller hopes to attract some 400 international film investors, with a particular nod to Asia and Latin America.

It is no coincidence that Müller chose director and screenwriter Francesco Bruni to head the Perspectives jury: Bruni scooped an award for his film Scialla! at the 2011 Venice Controcampo Italiano section – a similar initiative begun by Müller but discontinued by his successor Barbera. Müller also selected another new trends expert with the jury president of the CinemaXXI section, dedicated to cutting-edge works: Glaswegian artist Douglas Gordon, whose cult cinematic installation “24 Hour Psycho” featured in last year’s Rome festival.

On 9 November Waiting for the Sea by Russia’s Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov opened the festival which ends on 17 November with the wry comedy A Gun in Each Hand by Catalan director Cesc Gay. In between, there is something for everyone on each of the festival’s eight screens at the Auditorium, the MAXXI Museum of 21st-Century Art and the Cinema Barberini.

Andy Devane

This article first appeared in the 7 November edition of Wanted in Rome