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Preview of coming distractions: Rome 2006

In less than seven days, on the fateful Friday The Thirteenth of the current month (October 13, 2OO6), the First International Film Festival ever held in Rome will open the gates of the Eternal City to a floodtide of media representatives, journalists, film professionals, actors, directors, film fans, and just plain curious stargazers of all stripes and colours. Whether this new festival turns out to be a blast or a bust, or something in between, it is already the most eagerly anticipated event on this year's film festival calendar. If this is "The "Great Attractor" of the year, to some people in a certain city up north -- the one with the canals, gondolas, and the oldest film festival in the world -- it is worse than a distraction and more like a Black Hole trying to cannibalize all the other astral bodies in the immediate vicinity. The complaint command of the Venice Film Festival headed by groucher-in-chief, Marco Mueller, claims that the Roman upstart is trying to put them out of business by stealing films and film stars out from under their noses while lowering and vulgarizing the overall quality of the film festival concept, and even worse -- having the gall to schedule their event just one month after the one on the Lido, thus forcing film producers to choose between one or the other.

Meanwhile, Walter Veltroni, the mayor of the city of Rome and basically, the Godfather of the new festival, calmly states that "there is plenty of room in Italy for two successful film festivals." (In fact, there are quite a few others, each successful in their own way -- Torino in November, Taormina and Pesaro, earlier in the year, to name the more important ones). Veltroni points to the differences between the Rome and Venice festivals and says it is not his intention to compete with Venice but rather to celebrate film in general and bring it back to the people (as opposed to the exclusive professional posture of many festivals). The Rome Jury, for example, is not a festival jury in the usual sense -- a handful of film pros or intellectuals -- but will be composed of a panel of fifty (5O!) ordinary Italian filmgoers selected from a pool of 3,OOO applicants by the well known Italian film director Ettore Scola, 75, known outside of Italy for comedies such as "The Pizza Triangle - or Jealousy Italian Style" (with Mastroianni and Monica Vitti). Giorgio Gossetti who is the director of the new festival says that the Venetian fest is all about film as The Seventh Art, while the Rome festival is audience oriented and thinks in terms of film as entertainment --therefore, why talk about "competition" (harrumph).
As the location of Cinecitta, one of the largest film factories in the world, and the center of the Italian film industry there no reason for Rome not to host some kind of film festival and it is rather odd that there
hasn't been one there until now. Nicole Kidman -- a popular actress if ever there was one -- will inaugurate the festival by introducing her new film "Fur", billed as "An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus" (American high fashion and high art photographer, 1923-1971). The pic is directed by Steven Shainberg and co-stars Robert Downey, Jr. Other biggies coming up are Martin Scorcese's new and hotly discussed gangsta flick "The Departed", starring Jack Nicholson, Matt Damon, and Italo-Americano Leonardo DiCaprio, a fantasy thriller "The Prestige" with Aussie heart-throb Hugh Jackman and Il Musico, David Bowie, long absent from cinematic action, plus a Richard Gere vehicle, "The Hoax". In the last mentioned writer Clifford Irving (Gere) sells his bogus biography of Howard Hughes to a premiere publishing house in the early
1970s, unleashing a mild media frenzy. A really hot cast includes Alfred Molina, Hope Davis (that splendid lady from "American Splendor"), Marcia Gay Harden, Julie Delpy, and a truly venerable Hollywood icon, Eli Wallach. The director is Swede Lasse Hallström, best known for his arty cerebral "The Cider House Rules" of 1999.
The one thorny thing about the new Roman fest is not so much that it comes so soon after Venice, which might in itself be acceptable considering that festivals like Toronto and Montreal also run practically neck-and-neck, but that it is sandwiched right between Venice and Torino which will be coming up in November. Three big film festivals squished together like this does make for a certain overcrowding of the ledger. Depending on how well the Rome fest goes over, and, given the primo location and the probability that stars will be raining over the Coliseum like the meteor showers of August, there is little reason to suppose it will not go over anything but Bigtime -- when the smoke clears a couple of weeks from now, some kind of summit meeting may have to be called for the pupose of decongesting the last third of the Italian festival calendar in 2OO7. (lest we see a wave of suicides on the Lido ...) It is not very likely that Venice will budge from its long established time slot in September, but Torino, less deeply entrenched might be open to persuasion, and Rome, as the new tough guy on the block may emerge from all this with the clout to call the shots any way it sees fit. At this point, however, it's all up for grabs and only time will tell. The fact that the festival opens on Friday the 13th seems to indicate that the organizers have no fear of the occult, are quite ready to get out there and "breaka da leg", and who cares about black cats crossing the Corso?
Well, Arrivederci a Roma e buona fortuna!

Alex in Budapest



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