As the 63rd VeniceFilm Festival opened yesterday with the world premiere of Brian De Palma's TheBlack Dahlia, the rumbling row about what impact the upstart new Rome Festival(due to be held for the first time in October) will have on Venice's long-termfuture showed no sign of dissipating.

"We are in Venice.Let's talk about Venice.This subject has been talked about ad nauseam," an obviously exasperated Davide Croff, President of theBiennale, responded when he was asked yet again about Rome during a lunch-time press conference atthe Excelsior Hotel.

Festival director Marco Muller likewise appeared irritated at the persistentquestions about Romelobbed in his direction by Italian journalists. "The best answer to thequestion about this controversy is the films themselves. The festival hasstarted and we should let the films speak for themselves,"he said. He also expressed his hope that this year's Venice will be "a festival of unexpectedfilms."

Both Muller and Croff acknowledged that the longmooted regeneration of the Palazzo Del Cinema will be crucial if Venice is to grow."Although we feel confident we are one of the world's leading festivals, wedo need to grow," said Croff.

Earlier in the morning, jury member Michele Placidohad attempted to strike a conciliatory note about the rivalry between Rome and Venice.

"Venice is theoldest festival and has discovered many auteurs andfilms," he said. "Romeis only starting out. In four or five years, we will be able to compare. It isabsurd to say that Rome is taking over from Venice. It takes years tobuild a festival."

Representatives of the Rome Festival declined to comment further on theirplans.

In the run up to Venice's opening, the rivalry between the events hadheated up in the Italian media, after Muller gave an interview saying that Rome would show films that hadn't made the cut for Venice. The Rome organisersthen called Muller's statement "an incredible offense to cinema."