#RomaFF14 | Close Encounters

The 14th Rome Film Fest devotes an ample section of its programme to the onstage conversations with directors, actors, and important cultural figures.




The Rome Film Fest pays tribute to one of the most non-conventional and best-loved stars of American film, Bill Murray, who will be receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award. Handing Murray the prize will be Wes Anderson, the director who did the most to turn the actor into a contemporary icon. Before the ceremony, Wes Anderson will sit down for a talk with his favorite actor at one of the Fest’s Close Encounters, during which the two friends will retrace the steps of Murray’s remarkable artistic career and discuss their own magical partnership that has seen them work together on numerous films, such as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Acquatic with Steve Zissou, and The Darjeeling Limited, as well as Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and most recently Isle of Dogs. After his dazzling debut on the small screen, on the popular show Saturday Night Live, Bill Murray shot to fame in movies, first in Ghostbusters by Ivan Reitman and then in a series of films that all obtained cult status, thanks to his star turns, above all: Groundhog Day by Harold Ramis, Ed Wood by Tim Burton, Broken Flowers by Jim Jarmusch and Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola, which earned Murray a Golden Globe, BAFTA, and an  Oscar® nomination. Murray’s acting style really did break the mold, and he managed to carve out a niche all his own, thanks to the boisterous carryings-on of his sarcastic, moody and wild-eyed characters, all operating on such a personal note that they almost stop being fictional creations and become the real character, who is – let’s face it – Bill Murray himself. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.




“Let me tell you something: the only thing that separates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity.” These were Viola Davis’s words as she made her passionate, emotional speech on the stage at the Emmy Awards in 2015, gripping the trophy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Professor Annalise Keating in the hit series How to Get Away with Murder, and becoming the first woman of colour to win this award. Looking back over her career, starting with her film debut in 1996, after Davis had worked in theatre for years, in the drama The Substance of Fire by Daniel J. Sullivan, there isn’t one role she took on that didn’t hit the mark. From the big screen to the small screen, Davis has always chosen characters best suited to her own talents as an actress, and has turned out complex, incisive and charismatic performances culminating in an Oscar® for Best Supporting Actress in 2017, for Fences by Denzel Washington, after two nominations for Doubt in 2009 and The Help in 2012. A well-known activist for civil rights and women’s rights, Viola Davis is also the only actress of colour to have won acting’s ‘Triple Crown’, that is, the three top awards for American actors: an Emmy, a Tony and an Oscar®. At the Rome Film Fest, Viola Davis will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award and meet audiences for a Close Encounter, during which she will look back over her impressive career and talk about her civil rights campaigns. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.



Muse and partner of French director François Truffaut. Actress, diva, director: Fanny Ardant is a woman who continues to defy convention on the screen and in real life and will be taking the stage at Rome’s Auditorium for a Close Encounter. With her lively intelligence and sophisticated beauty, Ardant proved to be the perfect female star of sentimental dramas with marked psychological depth. She has played enigmatic, multi-faceted characters, often sensuous and uninhibited. In 1974, she debuts in theater at the Festival du Marais, after traveling widely and studying international politics. In 1979, she appears in The Dogs by Alain Jessua, and then in Bolero by Claude Lelouch. But the audiences associate her real film debut with Truffaut, who cast her as the star of his The Woman Next Door alongside Gérard Depardieu, in the role of a married woman who, unable to forget an earlier love, is willing to turn her whole life upside-down. Life Is a Bed of Roses (1983) marks the beginning of her collaboration with Alain Resnais, which includes, the following year, Love Unto Death and then the drama Mélo in 1986. Ardant worked with Ettore Scola in The Terrace, The Family and The Dinner, and won the César Award for Best Actress in 1996 for her role as Eva in Pédale douce, by Gabriel Aghion. At the 2002 Berlinale, she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress for her performance in 8 Women by François Ozon. In 2009, she made her directorial debut with Blood and Ashes, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival the same year. At the Rome Film Fest, she will present La Belle Époque by Nicolas Bedos.



The French filmmaker, one of the most profound connoisseurs of film on the contemporary scene, went into directing after many years as a critic for Cahiers du Cinéma, following in the footsteps of master filmmakers such as François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. Now Oliver Assayas will take the stage for a Close Encounter with Rome Film Fest audiences, during which he’ll share his thoughts about the Nouvelle Vague and his experience as a film critic. One of the first film figures to show interest in the innovations in filmmaking coming out of Hong Kong and Asia at large in the 1980s, since his directorial debut in 1986 with Disorder, Assayas has lived up to his reputation as a creator of intensely charged works known for their strong storylines, psychologically complex characters, and elegant camera moves, making for films of a rare narrative force and visual power. The Parisian director is a past master at portraying childhood and adolescence (Cold Water, Winter’s Child), then treating his audiences to a meditation on film itself (Irma Vep) and trying his hand at elaborate period films (Sentimental Destinies), before taking on the fresh challenge of TV series (Carlos, winner of a Golden Globe in 2011). In his latest films he has tirelessly probed the fragility of human relationships, from Something in the Air, Clouds of Sils Maria, and Personal Shopper – which netted him the directing award at Cannes – to Non-Fiction and his most recent, Wasp Network. Assayas has also selected a personal favorite for Fest audiences, directed by one of the filmmakers he holds dear: Ludwig by Luchino Visconti, presented in the Omaggi (Tributes) section of the catalogue with an excerpt from a lengthy critique written by Assayas himself.



In 2015 Joel Coen and Frances McDormand, husband and wife, took the stage for one of the Rome Film Fest’s most popular Close Encounters. This year it is Ethan Coen’s turn to meet Roman audiences and look back on the hits he and his brother have co-directed, such as Fargo, The Man Who Wasn’t There and The Big Lebowski. A man wearing many hats – writer, director, producer, editor and playwright – Ethan Coen is the son of a college professor and an art history teacher. After getting a degree in philosophy from Princeton, he started writing screenplays with his brother. The first film they made was Blood Simple, in 1984, which won the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. This was the start of an over-thirty-year-long partnership, to the point that it is impossible to separate Joel’s career from Ethan’s, the hallmarks of their filmmaking being a sophisticated, intellectual style and an unsparing irony and cynicism, making for a fresh and quite original take on film today. Ethan and Joel have always co-written and co-directed their films, but until 2003 the former got the producing and the latter the directing credits. Their 2004 film Ladykillers was the first they took joint credit for. In 1991, Barton Fink won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. The film that really established their international reputation, though, was Fargo, which won an Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay and another for Best Actress (Frances McDormand). Fresh triumph was in store at Cannes in 2003, when their The Man Who Wasn’t There won the Best Director award. The film netted four Oscars® in 2008, for No Country for Old Men, based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy: Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem). Comedy and the grotesque merge in the Coen Brothers’ tales, with their all-too-human characters stripped of their every certainty, which just might be what makes them irresistible. It is the same for their latest hit, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, a six-episode anthology film about the West that was, and possibly is no more. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.



If there were such a thing as a rock star in literature, he would have the inquisitive face and rebel eyes of Bret Easton Ellis. Born in 1964, the author from California is one of the undisputed protagonists of contemporary literature in the world, and one of the most nonconformist voices in American culture. Demolishing appearances, supporting free thinking at any cost, Ellis has written a series of best-sellers, each of which is hard to ascribe to a single genre, ranging from memoir to political essay to horror. Since his debut with “Less Than Zero” to “Lunar Park”, from “Glamorama” to his most important book “American Psycho”, a mad and disenchanted journey through late twentieth-century New York driven by an obsession with consumer spending and drugs, and seen through the eyes of a serial killer, Ellis drags the reader into his stories, all imbued with thought that is as limpid and conscious as it is violent and nihilistic. His novels have often been adapted for the screen (Less Than Zero, American Psycho, The Rules of Attraction, The Informers) but he also wrote the screenplay for Paul Schrader’s The Canyons, a film that was presented at Venice 73 and starred Lindsay Lohan. At the Rome Film Fest, Bret Easton Ellis will be featured in a Close Encounter during which he will review his remarkable career and will talk about his love for cinema from the Seventies. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.



One of the most highly acclaimed directors, actors and film producers, who can approach a range of different genres with a spirit reminiscent of great classic cinema (such as the films by Howard Hawks, first and foremost), the extraordinary career of Ron Howard, winner of an Oscar® for A Beautiful Mind, spans sixty years of film and television. In 1959, at the age of five, he made his debut as an actor in the cult series The Twilight Zone, while in 1977, while he was still starring in Happy Days as Richie Cunningham, he turned to directing. His talent behind the camera led him to experiment with very different genres, and to direct many hit films from Splash to Cocoon, from Far and Away to Apollo 13, including Frost/Nixon and Cinderella Man, to the films adapted from the novels by Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Inferno) and the recent Solo: A Star Wars Story. An “invisible” director who prefers discreet and never-flaunted camera movement that is rigorously functional to the story it tells, who focuses his stories on protagonist-heroes whose are deeply human in their normalcy, as they grapple with universal themes such as sacrifice, loyalty and courage, he will be a guest of the Rome Film Fest in a Close Encounter with the public, during which he will present his latest film Pavarotti, a documentary on the life of the famous Italian tenor. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.



The subject of one of the 14th Rome Film Fest’s retrospectives as well as guest of a Close Encounter with Fest audiences, the Japanese writer, director and editor Kore-eda Hirokazu is one of the most inspired and acclaimed filmmakers in the world. Over his thirty-year-long career, Kore-eda has crafted a highly personal conception of cinema consisting of intimist films in domestic settings, directed in a delicate, minimalist style and addressing themes like human frailties, childhood, family ties that do not necessarily involve blood relations, and memory (“Without memory we have no identity,” he claimed during an interview with the film critic Mark Schilling). Kore-eda made his directorial debut in 1995, when his film Maborosi was selected for the competitive lineup at the Venice Film Festival, earning him the Golden Osella Award for Best Director. From After Life, which established his reputation internationally, to Like Father, Like Son, winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes; from Shoplifters, nominated for an Oscar® for Best Foreign Language Film and winner of both the Palme d’Or at Cannes and the 2019 César for Best Foreign Film, to the most recent The Truth, the stories Kore-eda tells unfold unhurriedly in a lyrical, consolatory universe. Endowed with an astonishing narrative force that constitutes a profound meditation on the most complex and universal aspects of human existence, they are probed by the filmmaker’s gaze until their most hidden and most genuine implications are revealed.



Fight Club, Primal Fear, American History X, 25th Hour, and Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance: a handful of films will do to identify one of the most charismatic and versatile actors of his generation. Edward Norton, who will be at the Rome Film Fest with its opening film, Motherless Brooklyn, which he both starred in and directed, will also be hand for a Close Encounter with Fest audiences, treating them to a look back on his brilliant career. With a yen for acting since he was a child, Norton enrolled in Yale University and earned a degree in history in 1991. After three years in Japan, where he worked for a volunteer association run by his grandfather, a philanthropist and millionaire, he broke into theater, appearing in several off-Broadway productions. 1996 marked his screen debut in Primal Fear, for which, on his first try, he won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and an Oscar® nomination in the same category. This would lead to a series of roles as complex, contradictory characters; in the same year, Norton went from playing a young heir apparent in Everyone Says I Love You by Woody Allen to a defense lawyer representing America’s most famous pornographic magazine publisher in The People vs. Larry Flynt by Miloš Forman. The year 1998 brought a new role which earned Norton his second Oscar® nomination, this time in a star turn as a young neo-Nazi turning over a new leaf in American History X by Tony Kaye. And in 1999, he took on the role of another controversial character, the nameless narrator of David Fincher’s Fight Club, a film that achieved cult status. His third Academy Award nomination came along in 2015, for his performance in Birdman, in which he played an insecure Broadway actor who was still more authentic on the stage than in real life.

Norton directed his first film, Keeping the Faith, in 2000. Motherless Brooklyn, based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem, is his second time behind the camera. The actor/director is also known for his commitment to environmental issues. He founded the Solar United Neighbors program that sees to the installation of solar panels on the houses of Los Angeles’ poorer residents, and in 2010 he was appointed U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.



A versatile and eclectic artist, the French writer, director and film critic Bertrand Tavernier, son of poet René Tavernier, became enamoured of cinema as a child. He dropped out of law school after his first year to become a film critic, contributing initially to Positif and the Cahiers du Cinéma and writing several books on American film, of which he would become a connoisseur. Indeed, the influence of American directors would be palpable in all his feature films, starting with his debut film The Clockmaker, based on a novel by Georges Simenon and winner of the Special Jury Prize at the Berlinale. This picture marked the first time he met Philippe Noiret, with whom he would work for years to come. Tavernier’s approach to cinema sprang from his unconventional outlook, which gave rise, over the years, to a poetics that was extremely personal, intimately linked to the strength of his scripts and the centrality of the actor; as well as a preference for the formal beauty of, and a certain rigor in, his storytelling. Winner of the Golden Bear at Berlin for The Bait, the Best Director Award at Cannes for A Sunday in the Country, and the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at Venice in 2015, Bertrand Tavernier will take the stage of the Auditorium to talk about the so-called “cinéma de papa”, the remarkable film narrative tradition dear to the French filmmaker’s heart – the very same that came under attack from the Cahiers critics at the height of the French New Wave.




John Travolta must have had an inkling about what his life would turn out to be when he was a kid. The youngest of six children, he and his siblings would put on a different play every week. That was until, at seventeen, his parents encouraged him to start taking tap-dancing classes, and he dropped out of school to throw himself into dancing and acting. Soon he was involved in a stage version of what, just a few years later, would be the film that made him famous: Grease. At the same time, young John was launching a career in television as well, playing a role in a series that heralded another of his iconic characters: the series was called Welcome Back, Kotter. His film debut came around in 1975, in the horror movie The Devil’s Rain by Robert Fuest; the next year he appeared in Brian De Palma’s Carrie. But his screen career really took off in 1978, when he gave the world the ambitious young dancer Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, receiving an Academy Award nod and a Golden Globes nomination for Best Actor, and shooting to international stardom. In 1994, after spending most of the 1980s trying to shrug off the characters that had made him a household name, Quentin Tarantino chose him to play Vince Vega in Pulp Fiction. The part of the corpulent, rumpled hitman revitalized his career, showing audiences what an eccentric and versatile actor he really was, perfectly able to adapt the American acting tradition to the needs of contemporary film, and showing he was a lot more than just that generational icon associated with 1970s musicals. John Travolta will attend a Close Encounter during which he will look back at his remarkable career and will present his latest work, The Fanatic by Fred Durst. With the support of the U.S. Embassy in Rome.



Sometimes private and professional lives meet, and a filmmaker and his or her muse become a couple in real life. In this case, he is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker and a writer, while the muse is one of China’s most famous classical dancers and actresses. The couple? Jia Zhangke and Zhao Tao. They met in 2000, when Zhao was teaching dance at Taiyuan Normal College and Jia, who was casting his film Zhàntái (Platform), was looking for a young woman from Shanxi, who spoke the dialect of the province and knew how to dance. The gracefulness of Zhao’s dancing and her sweet expression enchanted the filmmaker, and Zhao became the star of all his films. In 2012, she was the female lead in the film Shun Li and the Poet by Andrea Segre, and won a David di Donatello for Best Actress. It was the first time the award went to an Asian actress. Jia Zhangke’s films are complex, due to the originality and breadth of his vision, and show how China has changed in the last twenty years, through personal dramas and collective experiences that swing between history and social realism, memory and its dissolving – all central themes of his filmography. The Chinese filmmaker won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2006 for Sānxiá hǎorén (Still Life), another remarkable portrait of a generation ‘resigned’ to modernization, and the Award for Best Screenplay at Cannes in 2013 for his Tiān zhùdìng (A Touch of Sin), both starring Zhao Tao. In his most recent film, Jiānghú érnǚ (Ash is Purest White), in competition at Cannes in 2018, the director once again examined the ethical and moral costs of China’s race to economic supremacy. At the Rome Film Fest, Jia Zhangke and Zhao Tao will take the stage for a Close Encounter, looking back over their careers and their artistic partnership.


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