A Media Phoenix Rises From Scandal’s Ashes

A phoenix will attempt to further its rise from the ashes at Cannes this year.

Angelo Rizzoli, who once ran 25% of Italy’s publishing business and then faced financial ruin, is returning to the film world’s premiere stage reincarnated as a successful film producer and distributor.

Ten years ago, the Rizzolis were a proud, wealthy and respected Milanese family who controlled a far-reaching publishing and film empire.

Then, in a dramatic scandal that rocked the country, the Rizzolis became ensnarled with Masonic lodges and the infamous Banco Ambrosiano. After bitter court proceedings, the family was eventually forced to sell the entire publishing group, including the top-ranking daily “Corriere della Sera.”

And the family film banners, Rizzoli Film production and Cineriz distribution, eventually went out of business.

Rizzoli-Corriere della Sera (RCS), a publishing group with expanding interests in tv, homevid and film distribution, is now controlled by the powerful Agnelli family through a chain of holding companies and Rizzoli is in litigation with the buyers over the way he was forced to sell the group, whose current value he says is now “a hundred times what it was sold for when I had no alternative.”

Battling back

At 47, Rizzoli is a portly, gray-bearded gentleman with youthful features and many bitter battle scars just under the surface. He has battled back from the ashes of financial catastrophe, and is proud to call himself a fighter.

After being rejected for a $40,000 loan by Italian banks, he obtained financing from the prestigious Dutch bank, Pierson, Heldring and Pierson, and received advice and co-production work from Italian media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi.

Rizzoli’s holding company, Finerre, now owns production house Erre Produzioni, the new Italo distribbery Darc and 20% of a pan-European distrib about to be launched, Eurotrustees.

Along with his trading companies, Film Trade and Cine Trading, which buy and sell tv and vid rights, Rizzoli says puts his group’s turnover at $100 million.

Through banner Erre Produzioni, founded at the end of 1989, Rizzoli plunged into production as a major independent financier of pricey art films.

He has backed directors like Jerzy Skolimowski (“Torrents Of Spring”), Paul Schrader (“The Comfort Of Strangers”) and Giuseppe Tornatore (“Everybody’s Fine”). The season’s highlight was Gianni Amelio’s “Open Doors,” nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film.

But after disappointing returns from “Torrents Of Spring,” Erre has pulled back on some of its bigger plans while it waits for results from a trio of its pictures being released in the U.S.A six-picture deal with Sovereign Pictures is still to be completed, after two U.S. releases by the Yank company.

Distrib takes off

At the same time, the distribbery has spread its wings. The first DARC release, a classy piece of erotica from Bigas Luna, “The Ages Of Lulu,” got off to a predictably fast start in April, notching $160,000 in grosses in its opening weekend.

After it releases Madonna’s provocative “Truth Or Dare?” the company will start digging into a 15 to 20 pic slate of tougher quality pictures, including “The Suspended Step Of The Stork” (an Erre production), “The Ballad Of The Sad Cafe,” “Naked Lunch,” “At Play In The Fields Of The Lord” and “Howard’s End.”

DARC’s true colors, it seems, are hues film fans admire. “Quality films with boxoffice power” is what buyer Adriana Chiesa is picking up for DARC, in conjunction with managing director Antonio Carloni.

“We became distributors to be sure our films got the best release possible,” explains Rizzoli. For the same reason, he doesn’t rule out entering exhibitions, a tricky trade in a city like Rome, where key hardtops are split between two big circuits belonging to Silvio Berlusconi and the Romagnoli family.

A Eurodistrib?

The creation of DARC was spurred by Eurotrustees, Rizzoli’s pan-European distribution company. Rizzoli is one of five founding members, and 20% owner, of Eurotrustees. Company operations will span 10 countries. Plans are moving forward, slowly. A meeting is scheduled in Cannes on May 9 to discuss, among other things, who is going to replace German Eurotrustee Herbert Kleiber, who no longer sees eye-to-eye with the other partners on strategy questions.

In principal, Eurotrustees will buy rights to American and international pictures for Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Spain, France, the Netherlands, the U.K. and Ireland. Each partner assumes the risks for all territories, and takes 20% of the profits or losses.

Eurotrustees has the backing of three banks: the Dutch Pierson, Heldring and Pierson, the Bank of Worms in Paris and the Berliner Bank.

Rizzoli is working on many” fronts – perhaps too many to keep going at the same time. But he shies away from enlarging the company with executives.

“The Rizzoli group had 10,000 employees. I don’t want to repeat that experience. I still feel very bitter over big companies. I’d rather stay on my own, in a mid-size business I can control by myself.”

It was Angelo’s grandfather and namesake who, with the historic companies, Novella Film and Dear Film, produced film masterpieces by directors like Max Ophuls, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Michelangelo Antonioni and Federico Fettini. If Angelo, Jr. gets anywhere near that kind of track record, he will have come a long way to redeeming his family’s darkest days.

More News

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content