The first edition of the Rome Film Festival (Nov 9-17) under artistic director Marco Müller has a wealth of world premieres. Melanie Goodfellow reports

The Turin-based Electric Shadows, Pesaro, Rotterdam, Locarno, Venice and now Rome — it is fair to say Marco Müller knows a thing or two about organising film events.

“It has been 34 years and nearly as many festivals,” says Müller, who was officially confirmed as the Rome Film Festival’s new artistic director in March, after disputes within the city’s tight-knit cinema community worthy of an ancient Roman saga.

Müller had just seven months to ready the 2012 edition, but the 59-year-old festival veteran is no stranger to a fast turnaround: he pulled together his first edition of Venice in 2004 in only four months. “Through that experience I already understood the special difficulties we would encounter and I knew that a lot of movies’ release strategies would be locked down already,” says Müller, who has returned to his home town on a three-year mandate after two decades away. “From mid-May to June we were talking to all the studios to see if they could put some titles aside for us that were originally meant for the late summer festivals… by July it would have been too late.”

Müller targeted two “very original, very special” studio pictures in particular, where he thought the release strategies would fit with Rome’s new mid-November dates: DreamWorks Animation’s 3D Rise Of The Guardians [pictured], directed by Peter Ramsey, and Walter Hill’s comeback action picture Bullet To The Head, the director’s first big-screen offering in more than a decade.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Rise Of The Guardians executive producer Guillermo Del Toro will accompany Ramsey to Rome for the international premiere, a week ahead of its Thanksgiving release in the US on November 21. The 3D adaptation of Oscar-winning animator William Joyce’s children’s book series The Guardians Of Childhood is expected to be a front runner in the upcoming awards season.

They were enticed to some degree by the offer of Rome’s new Vanity Fair International Award for Cinematic Excellence for the film. Hill, meanwhile, will receive Rome’s new honorary Maverick Director Award.

‘We hope the festival will help some films kick-start their award-season campaigns’

Marco Müller, Rome Film Festival

Both pictures will screen in Out of Competition red-carpet gala screenings at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, to the north of the city’s historic centre, which will once again be the festival hub. Other gala titles include Russian director Bakhtyar Khudojnazarov’s opening film Waiting For The Sea; Régis Roinsard’s 1950s-set romantic comedy Populaire, PJ Hogan’s Mental and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 2.

Müller has ditched plans to shift the festival towards central Rome, contenting himself instead with a refit of two of the auditorium’s theatres and a programme of catch-up screenings at the Cinema Barberini in the city centre. The festival has eight screening venues.

“The hope is that the Barberini screenings will make the festival a bit more visible to Romans,” says Müller. Some 123,000 tickets were sold in 2011.

In total, Müller and his programming team — which includes former BFI London Film Festival artistic director Sandra Hebron, ex-Cinéma du Réel Film Festival chief Marie-Pierre Duhamel and long-time Locarno collaborator Giona Nazzaro — have pulled together 59 world premieres and five international premieres.

Beyond the nine-title Out of Competition line-up, Müller has corralled the rest of the programme into three distinct, mainly competitive sections: the main Competition; CinemaXXI, exploring new trends in film across all genres; and Prospettive Italia, devoted to the best new Italian features, documentaries and medium-length and short films.

“The structure before was unwieldy,” says Müller. “Rome was full of events and special screenings. I wanted to trim this down. If a film cannot make it into one of the three competition lines, then the answer is no.”

The 13 titles in Competition, all of them world premieres, include Roman Coppola’s second film, A Glimpse Inside The Mind Of Charles Swan III, Valérie Donzelli’s Hand In Hand, Larry Clark’s Marfa Girl and Gabriel and Alan Polsky’s The Motel Life.

Historic Centre — a four-part work by Aki Kaurismaki, Pedro Costa, Victor Erice and Manoel de Oliveira — will open the new CinemaXXI selection. Other titles include the collective film Invisible World and Paul Verhoeven’s user-generated picture Tricked.

The Prospettive Italia includes seven new feature films, ranging from Susanna Nicchiarelli’s Domenico Procacci-produced drama La Scoperta Dell’Alba to Matteo Pellegrini’s feature debut, the racial integration-themed comedy Italian Movies.

Müller’s other festival change is the date. Running November 9-17, Rome opens two weeks later than last year, with the market taking place at the back end of the event (November 14-18), a week after the American Film Market closes on November 7.

The new dates also make the festival a good platform for US Thanksgiving releases and segue nicely into the start of the awards season on both sides of the Atlantic. “Without being too rigid about it, we hope the festival will help some films kick-start their award season campaigns. Aside from obvious contenders such as Rise Of The Guardians, Coppola and Hogan’s films are also creating some early buzz, as is Populaire, which is being billed as the new Intouchables,” says Müller.

Street life

Rome’s industry events move to a new post-AFM slot in 2012

Rome’s key industry initiatives — the informal The Business Street (TBS) screenings market and the New Cinema Network (NCN) co-production market — look set to become increasingly important in their new slot after the American Film Market (AFM).

In 2011, 140 films were screened at TBS, 32 of them previews, and 820 professionals signed up for the market, including 280 buyers and 93 sellers. The NCN initiative, which presented 27 projects, attracted 140 international producers and 13 world sales agents.

Marco Müller is expecting attendance to rise further following his decision to shift the festival back by two weeks and place the industry events in its second half (November 14-18), a week after the AFM.

“A lot of people promised they would attend if it was after the AFM,” Müller says. “I am expecting a lot of European professionals as well as some from South America and Asia.”

The market screenings, aimed primarily at the Official Selection world premieres, will take place at the Cinema Barberini and the Casa del Cinema up the road. As in previous years, RAI Trade is also laying on a digital video library.

A total of 20 projects will be presented at the NCN under four sub-headings: Focus Europe; Circuit, for projects at a more advanced stage; the newly created World Wild Card section aimed at world cinema; and Italian Panorama.

Focus Europe productions include German director Jessica Krummacher’s tragi-comedy Mordogan, about a pensioner whose plans for a quiet retirement are dashed by the arrival of a sick ex-girlfriend. US director Clay Jeter’s adolescent survivalist tale IO and Swedish film-maker Jens Assur’s Africa and Europe-set thriller Close Far Away will be presented as Circuit projects. Alexis Dos Santos’ Another World from Argentina is among the ten World Wild Cards. The Italian Panorama titles include Paola Randi’s Tito Il Piccolo and Laura Bispuri’s Vergine Giurata.

For the third year, the NCN will host the $40,000 (€30,000) Eurimages Co-Production Development Award to one of the attending projects. Past recipients in Rome include Miguel Angel Jimenez’s Chaika.

As part of the European Union’s year of cultural dialogue with China, TBS and the NCN are organising Spotlight: China!. Alongside a number of Chinese buyers and sellers, the initiative has invited animation director Liu Jian’s School Town, kung-fu master and screenwriter Xu Haofeng’s Sword Of Honor and Conformista from Cai Shangjun (who won the best director Silver Lion at Venice in 2011), to the NCN.

Other industry events include a co-producing and financing seminar on November 14 and the traditional Europe Day on November 15, looking at new trends and models of film finance across the region.