A Lesson in Cinema by Michael Mann at Rome Film Festival

Michael Mann at the Rome Film Festival
Queues started forming early outside Sala Petrassi at the Auditorium Parco della Musica on Saturday afternoon for what was clearly one of the most eagerly awaited events in the Extra section of this year's International Rome Film Festival – a Lesson in Cinema by American film director Michael Mann. In fact, the small theatre was quickly filled to capacity leaving many disappointed fans outside.

Hosts Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti are familiar faces to cinema fans in Rome as the regular presenters of the Auditorium's Journey Through American Cinema series of encounters with contemporary American actors and directors. Whilst these events have typically encouraged an anecdotal approach in which informal conversation and questions are interspersed with film clips, the evening with Michael Mann was, instead, far more focused on the technical aspects of film making – true to its title, this was a lesson in cinema.

Michael Mann pioneered new techniques in cinema by shooting the gripping 2004 thriller Collateral in HD digital video and it was particularly interesting to hear his comments on the technical possibilities of digital - the freedom from cost constraints, which allows the director to keep filming and exploit very long takes, and also technical advantages such as nighttime shooting under street lights, perfect for a movie such as Collateral, where the entire action of the film takes place over one night driving around L.A.

Collateral was a film that cast Tom Cruise against type for the first time and in response to a question from the audience, Mann explained that he particularly enjoyed pushing actors out of their usual safety zones and into unknown territory – "it gets their pulses racing!" – referring not only to Cruise, but also Daniel Day-Lewis in the physically demanding role of Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, and Will Smith, a child of hip-hop, who needed to immerse himself in 1960s and the history of the Black Power movement, before tackling the part of iconic boxing legend Muhammad Ali in Mann's 2001 biopic Ali.

Asked about his distinctive use of colour in another highly interesting question from the audience, Mann's response was very simple: "Colour? Use it!" Elaborating further, he said he uses colour to enhance the action, and as an example referred to the stunning Al Pacino beach sequence from The Insider we had just seen, in which the deep cyan blues of the shoreline were contrasted with the complimentary hues of the tungsten lighting in Russell Crowe's hotel room.

In the 1980s Michael Mann was the producer of the enormously successful TV show Miami Vice and after bringing that series to cinema screens in the 2006 movie of the same name, his latest project sees him return to the small screen once again as both producer and director of the pilot of a forthcoming HBO series called Luck. Praising the HBO cable channel as being at the forefront of a "golden age of television", as a special treat for the audience at the Rome Film Festival the encounter closed with a sneak preview trailer of the series – from the few minutes we were shown it looks to be a visually stunning piece of work.

The director then managed to sign a handful of autographs and shake hands with some of the numerous admirers who had approached the stage after the talk, before being hurried away by the organisers.