Rome Holds First Film Festival; City Gets Booked

As Travel Agent goes to press, Italian officials are concluding the first Rome Film Festival, October 13 to 21, to apparently great fanfare in both the city and the international media. The exterior of Parco della Musica, the main site of the Rome Film Festival

"It's going very well," says Publicist Vanessa Jerome on October 17. "The objective was to make it a festival that the public is really involved in, and they certainly are...There's a good ambiance. They're there every night for the red carpet...It's a program that seems to satisfy the public and the true movie goers as well."

Plenty of A-listers turned out: Nicole Kidman, Sean Connery, Martin Scorsese, Leonardo DiCaprio, Richard Gere, Viggo Mortensen, and Italian bombshell Monica Bellucci. (In a snub, Sophia Loren was not invited for the opening ceremony, which provided much publicity. She reportedly stayed home and ate chocolate with Sister Maria Scicolone.)

One source estimates the crowds showing up for the red carpet entrances each night at the Auditorium Parco della Musica at 600 to 1,200. No word yet on the official number of people who purchased tickets or who participated.

Most luxury hotels in Rome reported limited if any availability. On this point alone, it seems that agents need to be aware of the 2007 dates (which have yet to be announced).

"We are booked for the film festival," says a clerk at the Hotel Hassler, echoing confreres at the St. Regis (where Kidman reportedly stayed) and The Ritz. "Rome is really crowed," added a spokeswoman for the Hotel Bernini Bristol, which also sold out.

As in Cannes, Milan and Los Angeles, Rome's festival had a business market the first few days, centered on Via Veneto. Travel Agent got the following from our on-site writer in Rome, Sharri Whiting: "The (Westin) Excelsior is the center of this and is using its ballrooms as screening rooms. The largest suite in the hotel, Villa La Cupola, has its own private screening room. H Club Doney, the recently remodeled restaurant and bar, is naturally just packed. They're having a special menu also." Whiting reports producers fiercely selling their movies at the Excelsior.

Whiting adds: "The Via Veneto Association, which includes most of the Starwood Hotels in town, as well as Splendid Royal, Bristol Bernini and others, is hosting special events...with movie sets, famous movie's pictures, et cetera."

If you intend to sell next year's event, one festival organizer says he expects the 2006 venues to be used again next year. Movies were screened in 20 sites around the city.

Travel Agent contacted two of Travel & Leisure's perennial A-listers, Italy experts Margot Cushing of Linden Travel Bureau in New York City and Andrea Sertoli of Select Italy, Wilmette, IL, who had differing views of its future and what it means for agents.

Cushing was far more enthusiastic, saying of whether the event represented a selling point for agents. "Oh absolutely...the wonderful thing about Italy for me is, it's not a place you go once and never go back. You can keep finding other ways of enjoying your stay, and this is a perfect example."

Sertoli, however, said Select Italy tried selling packages to other Italian film festivals in 2004 but they generated only a tepid response from clients.

"It didn't really work out. Probably because it was the first attempt; probably should have pushed a bit more on the market. It's not necessarily that easy to combine (a film festival) with traditional tour elements. It may not be strong enough to motivate an American traveler to go to Italy if he or she didn't want to go already for another reason.

"I would be reluctant to say yes based on the experience we had in 2004, but indirectly, it's something that you can talk about to increase the interest in a certain place like Rome." Of whether the Rome Film Festival has the chops to become another Cannes, Sertoli says, "It's a long shot, but you can say that certainly some of the ingredients may well be there."

For information on the festival, visit www.romacinemafest.org.

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