Hollywood comes to Rome - Richard Gere and George Clooney at Rome Film Festival

Encounter with Richard Gere at Rome Film Festival 2009
If the opening night of the Rome Film Festival was a rather low key event, Saturday saw the festival ratchet the excitement up several notches as Hollywood came to town in the form of two of the world's most popular actors, George Clooney and Richard Gere. The red carpet and the open-air Cavea at the Auditorium were literally swamped with fans as Clooney - in town with the in-competition movie Up in the Air directed by Jason Reitman (2007 festival winner with Juno) – took a leisurely stroll up the red carpet, signing dozens of autographs and chatting to fans, whilst earlier in the afternoon, those of us lucky enough to grab tickets, were able to see Richard Gere in conversation in Sala Petrassi.

It was a relaxed and utterly charming Richard Gere who joined Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti on stage in what is now a traditional format in the Rome Film Festival Encounters, with conversation mixed with clips from notable screen performances and an extended Q&A session with members of the audience. Very early on in the encounter, in fact, Richard Gere asked that the house lights be raised so that he could see us - "now we're in this together!"

Kicking off with a clip from Days of Heaven, he spoke about working with the demanding but complex Terence Malick early on in his career, as well as his experiences with other legendary directors such as Francis Ford Coppola on The Cotton Club, illustrated by a clip of the trumpet-playing Gere, which prompted an affectionate credit to his mother for having sent him to music lessons as a child! Although there was nothing from Dr T and the Women he also spoke about the friendship and influence of Robert Altman. The sheer versatility of an all-singing, all-dancing actor who embodies something of Old School Hollywood was further highlighted by clips from his Golden Globe performance in Chicago and the more recent Shall We Dance, although inevitably a montage from his iconic roles in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman brought the loudest cheers from the enthusiastic audience. Box office smash Pretty Woman – "even a tribesman in Borneo with a bone though his nose has seen that movie", he joked – was also on the roster, as was a dramatic court room scene from the thriller Red Corner, which with its Chinese political overtones would resound later in the encounter when Gere, a long-time Buddhist and friend of the Dalai Lama, was asked about Tibet. He answered thoughtfully and with some notable melancholy about the spiritual need for China to embrace the Dalai Lama in what will be the inevitable fall of Communism in China, and also added that the people of Rome were blessed to have a spiritual brother in His Holiness (who was made an honorary citizen earlier this year).

The Rome Film Festival may be still be a fledgling on the main circuit but with events of this calibre here's hoping it continues to go from strength to strength.