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Marco Mueller and Sandra Hebron talk about the reinvented Rome festival

EXCLUSIVE: After announcing plans to show 60 world premieres at this year’s Rome Film Festival, the festival’s new artistic director Marco Mueller sat down with Screen to talk more about his plans to revamp the festival.

The first key in his plans for the festival was moving its dates until after the American Film Market – this year’s AFM runs Oct 31-Nov 7 and Rome’s market runs Nov 14-18. He says, “Rome is already existing as a meeting place, as a rendezvous, but Rome was always before AFM so people were always too busy to take the market seriously. We want to create the necessary space around the event and around the market. We wanted this born-again event to be positioned right at the centre of the last quarter,” Mueller told Screen this week in London. Now the festival falls after London (which ends on October 21) and Mueller notes: “It’s the last major international platform of the year (for buyers) and that helps.” The Rome festival will aim to have its closing the Sunday before American Thanksgiving every year (so 2013 dates will likely be Nov 14-24.)

Mueller, who departed Venice in late 2011, hopes to attract up to 400 industry attendees to Rome this year. “We will of course welcome all the North American buyers and the world sales companies. For North American buyers they can get a look at new titles that wouldn’t have premiered at the AFM. We also have to deliver what most of the world sales companies are looking for, which are the key Asian buyers and a new group of important players in the Latin American market.”

That timing will be “perfect” for some awards season launches, Mueller hopes. And foreign press junkets could run concurrently. He says that in discussing his new plans with the US studios, he has gotten a “strong response.”

As part of that new-look Rome, he has convened a new selection committee to work across the programme, which is comprised of Sandra Hebron (former head of the BFI London Film Festival), Marie-Pierre Duhamel, Enrico Magrelli, Giona Nazzaro and Laura Buffoni, plus Mario Sesti for documentaries. (This is in addition to key programme consultants such as Diego Lere in Latin America.)

With Mueller well known as being a huge supporter of Asian film, he notes that he will have no quota for those in the official selection. He does note that Rome could become a better launchpad than Venice for titles being released in Asia at the end of the year, since the festival’s November dates will be more convenient and can also help to curb piracy.

Hebron, who left the LFF in late 2011 to concentrate on her studies to become a psychotherapist, says that the timing is perfect for her to pitch in on Rome. “I’m making an interesting transition, which is a slow process, so I’m able to do this. Since I left the BFI I’ve been doing bits and pieces of film work. And this is the one festival that I want to work on and I can work on because of the timings – I’m on school holiday now.”

She was also drawn to working on a major city festival in a different way: “I get to work to Marco and I’ve never worked with a selection committee before, I’ve always worked in a slightly different way. There’s two things make it really interesting for me.”

She continues: “One of the pleasures of this is that we have a very broad brief. I’ve never been restricted by the kind of range that I look at, either geographically or formally.”

Mueller says of Hebron: “I always admired that kind of work that Sandra was doing, by keeping the festival catering to all these different groups of audiences but at the same time have a very personal take on English-language films and world cinema.”

Also, her experience in London will be relevant. Mueller adds: “Some artists were telling me, ‘Sandra can advise you how far you can go with a city festival.’  I said in Venice that I would never disengage myself from our viewers, so far that they could never catch up.”

Of that mindset, Hebron says: “It’s very different running a festival in a large city rather than in a rather beautiful seaside resort or scenic location. Distributors or other industry folk can really use the festival as a way of taking the temperature of how a film might work with audiences.”

As such, Mueller plans to create a 1,500 seat venue for general Roman audiences that will run films alongside gala screenings that will include more industry attendees. He says that offers a service to visiting buyers and sellers to see that audience reaction. “It will be an indication of how far the films can travel with various groups of audience.”

Red carpet glamour will also play a key role. “Rome is a glamorous city, as glamorous as Venice but without the logistical nightmare,” says Mueller, who was born in Rome. “Rome is also a capital with a moderate temperature in November.”

Of the showcase of Italian cinema, Perspectives Italy, he notes that Rome will be “opening up a platform for the visibility of launching Italian films at that time.” There will be a maximum of three Italian films in the main competition.

He adds: “Rome had shown 30 to 35 Italian films we want to be very selective and show half of that. Those 14 films must be chosen for their aesthetic qualities and their relevance but they should also serve as the starting point for discussions during the festival –  Like, What is the new kind of Italian comedy? What are the prototypes of Italian films that could bring in more co-productions?”

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