Venice fights back in film festival feud

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The Independent Online

The fur has certainly been flying between Rome and the grande dame of Italian film festivals, Venice, in the run-up to the first RomaFilmFest, which opens on Friday.

Months back all was sweetness and light, with the mayors of the two cities claiming that the Venice Festival, 63 this year, and Rome's would complement each other.

The Minister of Culture, Francesco Rutelli, a former mayor of Rome, pooh-poohed fears that the festivals would be at each others' throats. "Two major festivals will only increase interest in this area among Italians," he said. "A rising sea raises all the boats."

If that sounds like hot air, it was. Under its combative director, Marco Müller, Venice fights like a Venetian lion to hang on to its top ranking alongside Cannes and Toronto. The last thing it needs is an upstart challenging it.

So Mr Müller set out to prove who was boss by lining up a festival composed entirely of world premieres. And he sneered at the Romans, saying their films were ones he had discarded.

What seems to have irritated Mr Müller most was a cut in the government grant to the Venice event of around £1.3m.

The row was defused only when Mr Rutelli and the Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, rushed to Venice during the festival and promised Mr Müller money for the new festival headquarters, without which he threatened to quit last year.