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Romangeles : looking back and taking stock

Looking back at the just completed first Rome Film Festival and Fiesta combined one thing that can be said is that not only was it not a "flop", but it probably exceeded most people's wildest expectations. There was no lack of nay-sayers around the edges trying to disparage the event by accusing it of catering to the lowest common denominator, or slavishly bowing to Hollywood --(one paper called it "Romangeles") -- but the bottom line is that everybody had a good time, interest in cinema was gigantically stimulated, the city of Rome profited immensely in terms of stimulated business -- hotels, restaurants, etc. -- and a major statement was made: Film belongs to the people who buy the tickets, not to the critics who think they know it all --and, feel like they're being egregiously insulted if, God forbid, they ever actually have to pay cash to see a flick."

The first three days it was all about the Hollywood stars -- Kidman, Connery, Dicaprio, Scorcese and Gere. The opening shots were so strong that on the third day one Italian newspaper proclaimed that "The Rome Film Festival is already a myth!" -- In fact, had the festival ended right there, it would still have gone down as one of the film events of the year, but that was only the opening salvo. It then settled into an Italian show with la Magnifica (the celestial body) Monica Bellucci leading the way. Monica was in two films, "Napoleon and Me" and "The Stone Council" so her fans were rewarded with two Bellucci sessions on the red carpet. In the latter film, an occult thriller set in Irkutsk and Mongolia -- Monica speaks French most of the time, Russian some of the time, and looks great all of the time although clad throughout in frumpy unglamorous outfits. This woman can make a burlap bag look good and I don't buy the "received wisdom" that she can't act. Aside from the facts that her looks tend to blind one to any thespian deficiencies, she has been quite up to snuff acting-wise in every picture I've seen her in. Just because she's so beautiful she doesn't need to act (very much), doesn't mean she can't act.

Giuseppe Tornatore was back after a six year absence with the heavy hitting psycho-drama "La Sconosciuta", well-received generally, though it drove some to the exits before the end and the overpowering Morricone score made it sound more like Grand Opera than grand cinema. His last, incidentally, was "Malena" (2OOO) in which Bellucci starred as a small town beauty who fraternizes with an occupying German soldier with drastic results. That was the pic which more than any other brought Bellucci to world attention. A thirty film Sean Connery retrospective took place mostly in another part of town and a selection of over thirty films featuring star graduates of the Actors studio such as Brando, Clift, Newman and Eli Wallach were also shown in other venues about town.

In between there was the Actors Studio trio in-person symposium led by Martin Landau (with Eli Wallach, 9O, and Lee Grant) -- totally sold out so that journalists who didn't book in time (like Yours Truly) were shut out, and then it all wound up with another double-barrelled shot from Hollywood -- Harrison Ford and De Niro on the final two days. De Niro said that coming here was like "coming home" (to "casa mia") and mayor Veltroni presented the New York actor, not with a key to the city of Rome, but with an authentic Italian Passport (!), which basically makes him an honorary citizen of this country. There was so much star power in evidence here that some critics were calling it "Romangeles" and accusing the festival of too much Hollywood brown nosing -- sour grapes, ladies and gentlemen -- sour grapes. You never hear these same clowns complaining when the stars pop up like daisies at Berlin or Cannes or Venice ... There were also plenty of other European and Asian actors and directors around -- certainly enough to satisfy the "auteurs of tomorrow" and geographic exotica freaks. The winning Russian film, it was pointed out by somebody, was turned down by the Venice selection committee. Well how bout that -- the non-professional jury here thought a Venice reject was good enough for the main film prize, so that proves that the Roman public is more snooty than the Venetian critical elite? --or what! In any case, at least one writer drew a parallel between Rome and Venice -- they both reward films that nobody's ever going to see (outside of Russia).

Stats in round numbers: 1O2, OOO tickets sold, 48O, OOO visitors, and 5,5OO accredited, of which 1,7OO journalists and 2OO photographers. Children from 78 different schools were also entertained in the "Alice in the Cities" youth section. The Visconti exhibit with original costumes used in many of his films was packed day after day. Via Veneto (about a mile away from the festival grounds), the original "Dolce Vita" street, was turned into the "Business Street" of the festival and became an improvised film market to fill the gap left by the demise of MIFED (the Milan Film Market). Plans are to double the size of the market in 2OO7 (but without the ostentatious booths of the types one sees at Cannes and Berlin) and -- to make up for the slight Slight suffered by la grande dame of Italian cinema, Sofia Loren, Hizzoner the Mayor Veltroni has officially invited her to be the official Godmother of the Second Edition next year. Talk about turning an oversight to one's advantage -- couldn't have worked out better if they planned it that way.
And so, that is really IT for Roma 2OO6 and we look forward with sights set high to the next edition.
Alex, cooling it in Budapest

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