Actor Al Pacino provides star presence for the festivities of the International Rome Film Festival, which kicks off its third edition today, October 22, in the Italian capital.

Pacino will receive the Gold Marco Aurelio career honours and appear at a sold out panel in front of the local cinema-going community to discuss his work.

The actor will discuss his relationship with the Actors Studio and show the film Chinese Coffee that he directed, but which has never been distributed.

Leading up to the festival, Rome has seen brisk ticket pre-sales despite the
worldwide economic down turn. It has sold 38,000 tickets in thirteen days, up $10,500 (Euros 8,000) from last year, for a total revenue of $105,000 (Euros 80,000).

Pacino aside, the presence of international celebrities on the festival line may be down this year, but the red carpet will still welcome two world premiere opening films.

In the popular, star oriented Premiere/Anteprima section, Maria Sole Tognazzi's Italian language The Man who Loves (L'Uomo Che Ama) starring Monica Bellucci and Pierfrancesco Favino will kick off the competition in popular style.

The Cinema 2008 section, focusing on auteur-oriented fare, will screen the world premiere of Eight/Huit out of competition.

The film is directed by eight filmmakers including Jane Campion, Mira Nair, Gael Garcia Bernal, Wim Wenders, Gaspar Noe, Gus Van Sant, Jan Kounen and Abderrahmane Sissako. The directors will be in Rome to present the project, which was inspired by themes from the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals.

Artistic sections coordinator Piera Detassis feels that this third edition offers a well rounded programme that fits well with the spirit of the festival.

Speaking to ScreenDaily Detassis said: 'The festival has matured and is more compact and balanced between the sections. The opening is characteristic of our festival, Italian glamour with The Man who Loves for which tickets sold out; great filmmakers with Eight/Huit; the encounter with a major actor, Al Pacino; and a Brazilian party (in a central Roman piazza) are all indicative of the mix of popular and quality cinema this festival is about.'

Meanwhile Rome's thriving market event, the Business Street, runs through to October 26. The event may well give rise to debate over the next year between those who would like to see it change and those happy with the status quo.

Rome Festival's new president Gian Luigi Rondi recently said he would like to acquire the name MIFED. On the other hand, Sylvain Auzou, co-manager of the event with Diamara Parodi that is directed by Giorgio Gosetti has expressed satisfaction with the event 'as is.'

'I am really happy about the relaxed concept. Ideas and rumours that we will change in the spirit of MIFED, well, I think it is doesn't make sense. Considering there is a crisis everywhere in independent cinema we are happy,' Auzou said, citing eight hundred attendees of which almost two hundred buyers and forty sellers are non-Italian. 'Many see this as their last chance to sell their films this year. Some will not attend AFM and those that will are not sure they will sell enough there.' he added.

Auzou also pointed out that some attendees have come every year so far, meaning they are not 'trying Rome on for size.'

Celluloid Dreams' Hengameh Panahi, Wild Bunch's Vincent Maraval, Pathe UK and France, Fortissimo, UK's The Works and France's Studio Canal are all among the returning attendees.

Summit Entertainment's Patrick Wachsberger, Mexico's Quality Films and Alfa Film in Argentina are all attending. Sylvain Auzou also cites a robust Scandinavian, German and Spanish presence.

Leading Italian sales agent Adriana Chiesa (handling sales for The Man Who Loves among other titles) is attending the AFM too but keenly wants to change the Business Street's structure.

'Right now it is not a real market. It is screenings and meetings on a terrace and I hope it will be a real market next year. It doesn't matter what the name is. I am a supporter but we have to move on,' she says.

For now however, the event is certainly filling a niche for Italians who feel European product will have a better chance here than at the AFM. Fandango-Portobello Sales and Intramovies, for example, will not attend the AFM this year.

As Intramovies sales agent Jeff Nuyts explains: 'The AFM is a commercial market that has almost no interest for art house foreign language movies.'

Intramovies will screen Czech comedy Frankie, Jan Prusinovsky's The Womanizer, as well as a line up of recent Italian films. Fandango/Portobello's slate includes Rome competition title The Past is a Foreign Land by Daniele Vicari and Venice's Luigi De Laurentiis winning Mid-August Lunch by Gianni De Gregorio among others.

The International Rome Film Festival runs Oct 22-31.