Rome Film Festival director Marco Mueller.
Rome Film Festival director Marco Mueller.

Rome Film Festival director Marco Mueller is a divisive figure in the film community, but nobody can deny his impact. He is renowned for his track record of injecting new life into festival, from his successful Rotterdam debut after the death of its intransigent founder Hubert Balls through to his acclaimed tenure in Venice. He is also one of the first curators to introduce European audiences to Asian films, in particular Chinese cinema. His very presence at the helm of this year's edition of the Rome Film Festival provoked a 50% increase in international accreditations.

Yet his new job in the Italian capital might as well be the toughest challenge Mueller has faced so far. With a short and reviled history, the Rome festival was in a disastrous state prior to Mueller's arrival, which was preceded by an impasse whose backstage would outshine the most convoluted of all political thrillers. Indiewire sat down with Mueller as the festival came to a close last weekend to discuss his first year.

Are you satisfied with how the festival went?

Look, every festival edition cannot but addressing the previous edition's dissatisfactions also on the part of those who organize it. This year, we had not enough time to work on an ideal [festival]; we had to make do with what we had on our hands, which wasn’t much in terms of time. I increasingly feel the need of having an almost schizophrenic festival, a festival that can offer the right premieres for a big city like Rome but also pursue a more "avant-gardism" program, which we have already initiated this year with the CINEMAXXI section.

How does it feel to have become the artistic director of the Rome Film Festival in the same the year Cinecittá is closing down?

The problem is the following. How do you keep such an imposing structure open in the face of a decreasing offer on the market, when it is unthinkable to imagine a planetary distribution for Italian films? The fact that Cinecittá is closing down is a symptom of the state the Italian film industry. So the importance of a festival that draws attention to Rome as a city of cinema is not to be underestimated. We saw at the festival that there is still potential for films that should be made in Rome.

"A festival shouldn't be a surrogate of all that doesn't work in the distribution circuit."
In your view, what is the role of a film festival?

A festival shouldn't be a surrogate of all that doesn't work in the distribution circuit; it shouldn’t represent a sort of alternative universe to the marketplace. A festival makes sense in relation to what starts happening in the wider film world the day after the festival ends. There needs to be a dialogue, an exchange between the festival and the market so that films screened here don't die after the event but are launched into a longer trajectory. I'm interested in the waves that a festival ignites and the motion its films are set in. Films should be recognized outside the festival they're being shown and within the international arena, and that can also mean a successful stint in the marketplace.

What were the major challenges in organizing this year's edition? And what can be improved for the following ones?

From day one, I realized that the festival's bargaining power had to be improved and at the same time we had to work within its limitations. I'm not only referring to the talent, but also to buyers and vendors, so that a fruitful relation with the market as whole can also function as a multiplier. We needed to raise the festival's profile in terms of market palatability so as to be in a position to work on its artistic quality. In this respect it was very important to have world premieres with commercial potential. We're looking into increasing the commercial viability of this event outside the Italian sphere. For instance, this year, as part of the Business Street [Rome's sales market], we devised a section called "Missing Link" dedicated to VOD platforms, cable TV channels and all those new branches of the film market. The idea was to tap into and develop a distributive frame that differs from the traditional one in accordance with changing trends and viewing habits.

Next page: Where is this festival heading?