The fifth edition of the International Rome Film Festival kicked off thursday (28 Oct) with a protest by Italy’s film community over government cuts.

Hundreds of actors, directors, producers and other film professionals led by the movement 100 Autori flooded the red carpet at Rome’s Auditorium Parco Della Musica, angered that government cuts have brought Italy’s single arts fund, FUS, down to its lowest level in twenty years. The protest was also fueled by fears that new tax incentives for production may not be renewed.

The protests prevented Keira Knightley, Eva Mendes and director Massy Tadjedin from conducting their regular red carpet duties for opening film Last Night, but they showed up on the carpet in solidarity with the protesters.

The young festival has always delivered high wattage star power on their opening night attracting strong press but the Italian ruckus was big news here taking front page space of national papers just as details surrounding another alleged sex scandal involving Prime Minister Berlusconi and a 17-year old Moroccan belly dancer were hotting up.

Artistic director Piera Detassis supported the protest – saying “we are not taking this initiative as against the Festival…it is a protest that will give vitality and… we certainly can’t be against [them.]” she said.

Jury president actor/director Sergio Castellitto agreed saying, “Naturally, we are in favor of the protest.”

Things were calmer on Via Veneto where Rome’s industry initiatives got off to a strong start as this edition sees a continued increase in support for all of Rome’s industry events.

Robert Cicutto – head of Rome’s market event The Business Street (Oct 28-Nov 1) presented in tandem with the New Cinema Network (NCN) co production market spoke to Screen Daily about how he sizes up this edition, on the first day of the event.

“Today I feel really good – much better than a week ago. [This year] The Business Street (TBS) ends three days before AFM begins and now that I have the figures I can say we have about ten percent more than last year – that is a very nice surprise. Last year’s numbers would have been fine,” he said.

Buyers expected to attend this year number at 304 up from 280 in 2009 of which 179 are non-Italian reps. Sellers at TBS this year are slightly up at 96 from 90 last year and represent 64 companies from 14 countries.

Cicutto says this shows “TBS has found its place in the international panorama – not by competing against the other but by … being connected to a network.”

He specifically credited AFM managing director Jonathan Wolf for his “supporting and helpful” attitude towards TBS by not charging late fees to those that are sent from Rome directly to Los Angeles.

An additional sign of Rome’s increasing prestige in the eyes of the international industry is through the number of promotional organizations that are aligned with the event – in particular Eurimages, which will be handing out a $41,600 (Euros30,000) “Eurimages Co-production Development Award” to the best European co production presented in NCN while the talent promotion vehicle Shooting Stars will bring three rising European talents via the European Union’s MEDIA Programme. Over all, twenty-three institutes that promote European cinema are participating in Rome this year.

NCN partners attending Rome include Director of the Sundance Feature Film Program Michelle Satter, Film Institute Beirut’s Paul Baboudjian, Film London’s Helena Mackenzie and General Manager of the Cinefondation in Cannes Georges Goldenstern.

Rome’s first weekend will feature a restored version of the 1960 classic La Dolce Vita presented by Martin Scorsese followed by a bash sponsored by Gucci. Jessie Eisenberg has confirmed his attendance for The Social Network, to be presented as a special event. Julianne Moore will be the highlight of the second half of the festival when she is in Rome Nov. 2 to pick up the Marc’Aurelio Acting Award and present her film The Kids Are All Right.

The festival further reported that 8,000 tickets were sold in the first hour of pre- festival ticket sales.

The International Rome Film Festival wraps November 5.