Paul Verhoeven and PJ Hogan at Rome Film Festival 2012

The Rome Film Festival has seen some big changes over the last year, with erstwhile artistic director of the Venice Film Festival Marco Müller taking the helm for this, the 7th edition, which opened at Rome’s Auditorium Parco della Musica on Friday. Whilst this year's festival may not boast the huge roster of Hollywood big names of earlier editions, the programme includes an interesting and eclectic mix of international stars, presenting movies both in and out of competition, as well as a new focus on Italian cinema, with actors such as Carlo Verdone drawing large crowds along the red carpet on Saturday afternoon.

Paul Verhoeven signing my copy of RoboCop!
The name I was most excited to see on the programme this year was that of Paul Verhoeven, the Dutch-born director best known internationally for his US movies of the late 1980s and early 1990s, all of which have achieved cult status – Total Recall, Basic Instinct, and my absolute favourite, the legendary RoboCop. In Rome to present and discuss his latest film Steekspel /Tricked  in the CinemaXXI - Out of Competition section of the festival, before entering Sala Petrassi the director took the time to greet his many fans and sign numerous autographs along the red carpet. I am now the proud owner of a RoboCop DVD signed by Paul Verhoeven!

The director was joined for the screening of Steekspel by his excellent cast - Peter Blok, Robert de Hoog and Jochum ten Haaf. A highly enjoyable, impeccably paced drama with shades of back comedy, the medium-length movie clocks in at under an hour, yet is as satisfyingly complete as far longer films, and was received with huge applause from the audience as the credits rolled.

After the screening Verhoeven then joined Mario Sesti and Giona Nazzaro on stage to discuss the rather unusual genesis and creative process behind the film. Starting with only the first four minutes, the director had invited contributions from his fans online in the form of scripts and videos, for ideas as to how the rest of the film should progress, admitting that he had completely underestimated the scale of the job. Expecting to immediately be able to select a couple of really good scripts, he found himself having to read hundreds, none of which were particularly good, but from which he was able to select a line or idea here and there. Nevertheless, he found the whole experience inspiring and one of rejuvenation, particularly enjoying the sense of unknown destiny. In response to a question from the public, however, he reiterated the importance of the author, or director.

In answer to the inevitable invitation to comment on the recent remake of Total Recall in another question from the floor, Verhoeven said he thought the remake didn't work so well because takes itself far too seriously, adding with a smile, that “Arnie” and he had received better reviews since the remake than they ever did at the time of the original movie's release!

PJ Hogan on the red carpet at Rome Film Festival
Later on in the evening it was time to see another favourite director with Rome Film Festival judge PJ Hogan's turn on the red carpet for the presentation of the Out of Competition film Mental. The director graciously chatted with admirers and signed autographs on the red carpet, where he was joined by actresses Kerry Fox and Caroline Goodall. Kerry Fox was even kind enough to pose for a photo.

The film is inspired by the director's childhood experiences and explores the difficulties of living with mental illness. Full of Hogan's trademark bitter-sweet humour and often surreal comedy, the film stars the always amazing Toni Collette, supported by a fabulous ensemble cast. The hugely enjoyable movie was extremely well received in Rome with thunderous applause and a standing ovation from the audience in Sala Sinopoli.

Kerry Fox at 'Mental' screening at Rome Film Festival 2012