The first edition of theRome Film Fest kicked off today with Steven Shainberg's Fur: An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus,starring Nicole Kidman.

Kidman's presence on openingday amplified the glamour quotient of the inaugural festival, plugged from itsinception as a people's "festa" or party.

Director Shainberg andKidman filed into the Santa Cecilia concert hall inside the Renzo Piano-designedauditorium for the first informal "press meeting," which took placein the same location as the screening.

Kidman waxed philosophicalon matters from fidelity to divorce, creativity and nudity declaring "it seemsa bit strange to be sitting on a stage discussing these things but hey, here wego." Kidman then admitted she was embarrassed for speaking too candidly.

"We tried to establishsomething that is different from the traditional press conference and encouragea personal and free attitude," Fest general director Giorgio Gosetti told from his office,"so we are happy when we accomplish it, since it corresponds to ouraim."

With Fur featured in Rome's out-of-competitionPremiere section dedicated to gala events, Kidman downplayed the sparks betweenthe Rome and Venice festivals that were ignited by Fur's announced participation in Rome too close to the Venice Fest.

"Rome was right for us in terms of Fur," she said in defense of their choice. "I have beento Venice many times but we brought this film here to support Italy. Film festivals are good for small films likethis," Kidman explained.

Inspired by Patricia Bosworth'sbiography of photographer Diane Arbus, the Picturehouse-New Line releasefocuses on the relationship between Arbus and a mentor (Robert Downey Jr.) whohelped liberate the budding artist from the limits of a 1950s happy, but conventionalmarriage - freeing her to become one of the 20th century's mostinfluential photographers.

For a "popular festival" Rome boasts a strong line up of high-profile names.International program manager Teresa Cavina explained: "We are ambitious,but we are very grateful. Giorgio Gosetti and I began to work together infestivals 20 years ago so we didn't have the troubles beginners comethrough," she said in reference to Premiere section titles include LasseHallstrom's The Hoax, ChristopherNolan's The Prestige, GuillaumeNicloux's The Stone Council andMartin Scorsese's box-office success TheDeparted.

In a nod to Venice's on-going strength and underlining the apparentcalm between the two "rivals," Cavina was quick to explain that Rome could not showcase films by "masters" in its competitionslots.

"Cannes or Venice can put a master in competition because they aremonuments to the celebration of cinema, we can not put a master in competitionso we tried to have a mobile space for our competition films," sheclarified.

Rome's Sezione Cinema (with16 in competition films and three out-of-competition screenings) does showcasestrong directors like Patrick Tam whose Afterthis an exile is the director's first film in 13 years; cult directorTsukamoto Shinya's horror NightmareDetective (co-premiering in Pusan) and Georgian-French director OtarIosseliani's Jardins en Automne.

So while Rome, for now, has a clear sense of their mission, thequestion of a date change is imminent. "In our opinion, fall is a goodtime for the Festival in Rome -but when your (cultural) minister asks you to have a roundtable you have to goand present your reasons. We will discuss it together and we will see,"Gosetti asserted.

The only last-minute changesto the Fest's program are in honor of director Gillo Pontecorvo, who died in Rome Thursday night.

A screening of his classic1966 The Battle OfAlgiers will be added, and film composer Ennio Morricone's Saturday nightconcert will reflect a line-up of Pontecorvo-related themes. A finalretrospective of a great Italian director - a planned but yet to be unveiledevent - will now be devoted to late director.

On a bitter sweet note,Gosetti added, "Both Teresa and I worked under Gillo when he directed the Venice festival in 1992, I consider myself a friend of thefamily, and he will be with us all nine days of this festival."

The first Rome Film Festruns through Oct 21 with the inaugural film market running Oct 14-16. Thefestival has sold 45,000 tickets with two sections - Alice in the City and Premiere - fully sold out beforeopening day.