ROME – With two weeks to go before the International Rome Film Festival unveils its full lineup, anticipation is already growing for the first edition of the event under artistic director Marco Mueller.
At each of his previous stops as artistic director -- including eight years at the Venice Film Festival, and before that with stints in Locarno and Rotterdam -- Mueller has earned praise for his ability to organize compelling and eclectic lineups and for his keen eye for up-and-coming new talents. And he has vowed to continue the trend in Rome, promising in July a lineup with an unprecedented 60 world premieres.
But so far, there has been little official word on what those films will be. For its part, the festival has named only two: the Cinema XXI Section will open with the world premier of Centro Histórico (Historic Center), a film about the Portuguese city of Guimarães jointly directed by Aki Kaurismäki of Finland, 103-year-old Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira, two-time Cannes Palme d’Or nominee Victor Erice, and Pedro Costa, another Cannes regular. The festival also announced that its Perspectives Italy sidebar will open with the screening of Carlo!, a documentary about Italian comic actor and director Carlo Verdone directed by Gianfranco Giagni and Fabio Ferzetti.
And the other 58 or so premieres? Until the Oct. 10 official announcement of the festival lineup, that is a matter of pure speculation. But there are some titles that have been whispered about among Italian industry figures, international distributors, and in the local press.
The biggest names include Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, Du zhan (Drug War) from Johnnie To, Gabriele Muccino’s Playing For Keeps, The Twilight Saga: Breaking down Part 2, and a special event dedicated to the 007 James Bond franchise.
Other possibilities rumored include Sylvester Stallone, possibly in connection with Walter Hill’s crime thriller Bullet to the Head; animated family adventure film Rise of the Guardians, which includes the voices of Hugh Jackman, Jude Law, and Alec Baldwin; the new adaptation of Les Misérables from Tom Hooper, with an all-star cast that includes Jackman, Russel Crowe, and Anne Hathaway; and possibly even Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land and Lincoln, the newest Steven Spielberg project, though industry figures said Les Misérables, Promised Land, and Lincoln at present appeared to be relative dark horse candidates to premiere in Rome.
Tarantino’s Django Unchained, which stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jamie Foxx, and Samuel L. Jackson, is the big-name film most mentioned in connection with the festival, and it makes sense: Mueller and Tarantino have collaborated in the past, including Mueller’s selection of Tarantino to head the jury in Venice in 2010.
Additionally, the film is an unofficial tribute to Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 Spaghetti Western classic Django, which starred Franco Nero in the lead role. Corbucci (who died in 1990 at age 62) was a life-long Roman, and Nero, who has a small role in the Tarantino film, lives part of the year in Rome. But it is unclear if the film will finished in time for the Nov. 9-17 festival: reports are that production was put behind schedule after the departures of Kurt Russell and Sacha Baron Cohen from the cast earlier in the year.
Likewise, Mueller and To have long ties: To was given Venice’s Golden Lion for lifetime achievement in 2010, and he had three films screen in competition in Venice’s during Mueller’s eight-year tenure at the festival. To was awarded a Golden Leopard career honor at this year’s Locarno Film Festival, where he was reported to have met with Mueller to discuss the unveiling of Du zhan in Rome.
Muccino’s comedic drama Playing For Keeps is a less-talked-about inclusion in the lineup, but it is an intriguing possibility. Muccino grew up in Rome before moving to Hollywood and making a name for himself with a string of hits including The Pursuit of Happyness and Seven Pounds. And the film is already set to open in Italy Nov. 29, just 12 days after the close of the festival and about a week before opening in the U.S. and in other territories -- a successful premiere in Rome could give it an Italian box office bump. The film stars Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, and Dennis Quaid in a story about an ageing sports star who tries to rebuild his life while coaching his son’s soccer team.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking down Part 2 is reported to be a strong candidate to be the central film Rome’s Alice in the City sidebar for young people, the only competitive collateral event Mueller retained from the previous six Rome festivals. The adventure-fantasy story is scheduled to open worldwide Nov. 14, which is during the Rome festival. If the film does indeed screen in Rome with its main cast members on hand, it could create a field day for paparazzi, since it stars both Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, who have been regular headline fodder in recent weeks after a high-profile split as a couple and then an equally high-profile reconciliation.
Speculation about a James Bond event in Rome has appeared in the Italian press multiple times, but if it happens it will not include a big world premiere, since Skyfall, the franchise’s latest production, is set to premiere Oct. 23 at the London Film Festival and will have already opened on Italy by the time Rome gets underway. And the following film in the franchise, Bond 24, will not even start filming until the second half of 2013. But the festival could be working on a kind of James Bond retrospective or special event.
Stallone’s Bullet to the Head and Rise of the Guardians, the directed by Peter Ramsey, are very different from each other but neither fits the typical mould of films that have been a mainstay at Mueller’s festivals in the past. But they are high-profile releases that could draw attention to the seven-year-old Rome event. It is unclear if Bullet to the Head, which will not go into release until late January, will be finished in time to screen in Rome, though it’s also possible that Stallone, who was honored with an achievement award in Venice three years ago, could come to Rome for a similar honor.
The inclusion of Les Misérables, Promised Land, and Lincoln are far from certain. Sources say Rome officials have discussed the possibility of premiering the big-budget adaptation of Victor Hugo’s 19th century classic, but there appears to be some initial hesitation from the producers. Discussion on Promised Land, a environmental drama that stars Matt Damon, Frances McDormand, and John Krasinski, have reportedly only recently begun. And Lincoln is seen as even more of a long shot, given a historical context -- the U.S. civil war -- that might not resonate with European audiences.