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All eyes on Rome rival as Venice film fest ends

Written by: Staff

VENICE, Sep 10 (Reuters) Italians are bracing themselves for blood on the red carpet as Rome launches its own film festival next month in what many see as a challenge to Venice.

As the Lido wrapped up an 11-day movie marathon with a controversial top prize for China's ''Still Life'', organisers of the world's oldest international film festival looked nervously to the Eternal City.

After vague pledges of cooperation between the two events, a gentlemanly truce was broken when Venice festival director Marco Muller told Italian state television that Rome would screen ''films that neither we or Cannes wanted''.

Rome organisers, who scored a major coup by signing up Nicole Kidman to open their festival with the premiere of ''Fur'', angrily called Muller's comments ''an incredible offence to the filmmakers who are showing their work in Rome.'' In a bid to soothe tempers, Italy's Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli stepped in, asking Rome to reconsider the dates of its festival -- currently slotted to start on October 13, perhaps too close for Venice's comfort.

Impartial observers may find the debate futile, and many film critics on the Lido said another Italian festival can only help the country's cinema industry by giving it more visibility.

But the growing spat reflects Venice's anxiety over its infrastructure and fears that Rome's ''Festa del Cinema'' will divert stars and sponsor money -- both events have a budget of around 8 million euros -- away from the Lido.

OLD THEATRES, LONG QUEUES This year's festival did not see any of the excruciating delays and logistical blunders that marred its 2004 edition, as when Al Pacino famously found himself without a seat at the premiere of his own film.

But ageing theatres, long queues and over-priced services were a common complaint among 6,000 show business journalists and film industry executives who descended on the Lido this year.

The winning film, by independent director Jia Zhang-Ke, was sneaked into the main competition at the last minute it did not even feature in the official programme and screened late at night, meaning many critics at the festival did not see it.

''It feels like we are camping here, but we have just got used to it,'' said Natalia Aspesi, one of Italy's leading film critics and a veteran of the Venice festival.

By contrast, Rome's choice of venues and accommodation is likely to appeal to a broader audience than the Lido crowd, although snarling traffic could prove a big headache.

With time, it could also attract more film buyers and position itself as a lucrative market hub, something Venice has so far failed to achieve.

Muller, who today denied rumours he was about to resign, acknowledged that lack of space cast a pall over his festival.

''We had to limit the number of accredited guests because we did not have enough screen space or theatres to accommodate everybody,'' he told Reuters in an interview.

''If we can't solve some of our infrastructure problems, that will become a big question mark for producers,'' he said.

A new iceberg-shaped, 100-million euro Palace of Cinema remains on the drawing board for lack of funding, even though the government has promised to help.

''The new palace is essential for us,'' Muller said.


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