Where Are Italy’s Cinema Giants? Gone Or Retired

Where are the Carlo Pontis and Dino De Laurentiises, the Alfredo Binis and Goffredo Lombardos and Alberto Grimaldis, who put Italian filmmaking on the map? Where are the legends who nursed new talent like Pasolini and Bertolucci while they whipped out classics by Visconti and Rossellini and shot “Ben Hur” on the back lot?

You may as well look for David O. Selznick in the Cinecitta bar. Almost to a man, the old guard is in retirement or American exile.

DDL back, just for a shoot

Dino De Laurentiis is back for just a moment, shooting an American film, ” Crimen,” at Pathe Studios. It’s based on an old comedy of his from the ’60s.

Franco Cristaldi, one of the deans of Italian producers, scored a personal victory with the international hit “Cinema Paradiso,” a film that had to be recut and released three times before it made money in Italy. But his Vides production house has made only one film since.

The closest thing Italy has to mega-producers today is Pentafilm toppers Mario and Vittorio Ceechi Gori. Their dozen productions last year made Penta the top-grossing Italian film company. The Cecchi Goris, however, resemble Hollywood studio executives more than maverick pioneers. While Mario reads scripts and Vittorio finds financing, a series of small indie producers actually go out on the set and get the film in on time and on budget.

The Cecchi Goris retain their independence and figure as co-producers, not line producers, on pictures that would otherwise have a hard time finding funding and top distribution.

Among those who have worked with Penta are Gianni Minervini (for the successful Gabriele Salvatores film “Tournee”) and Fernando Ghia (with the less successful political thriller “City Desk”). Roberto Cicutto, a quality distrib who also produces under his Aura banner, made the small art film “Evelina And Her Sons” with Penta. Franco Committeri, Ettore Scola’s producer, co-produced one of Scola’s most successful films, “Captain Fracassa’s Journey,” with the Cecchi Goris.

Two up-and-comers

Two of the fastest rising producers on the Italian scene today are Angelo Rizzoli and Augusto Caminito.

After financial vicissitudes forced Rizzoli to sell the name of the family publishing house to Gianni Agnelli, he went through a long period of inactivity. Recently he made a comeback with Erre Produzioni, a company aimed at big international films. The opening of Distribuzione Angelo Rizzoli Cinematografica this spring will lend extra clout.

Caminito’s Scena co-produced seven features last year, ranging from the Venice opener “The African Woman” to moneymakers like Tinto Brass’s erotic “Paprika.” He works through the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro with 5.5% loans that cover 20 to 25% of budgets in the $4 million range, and foreign capital from France and Germany.

Titanus on a fast track

Coming up on the fast track is Titanus Distribuzione, the company owned by Vincenzo Romagnoli and daughter Giovanna that bought its name from Goffredo Lombardo in the early ’80s.

Titanus’ recent forays into film financing made the firm a co-producer on six quality films last year, most of which are still in production. The future weight of the company, which boasts distrib and exhib arms, remains to be seen following the appointment of a production head (possibly Mario Orfini).

The Romagnolis also have sights set on tv production, while Sesto Pifola, newly appointed head of foreign sales, will handle co-production.

Claudio Bonivento’s Numeo is a firm to watch. His production “Boys On The Outside,” directed by Marco Risi, scored excellent results with critics and audiences, while “Ultras” by Ricky Tognazzi seems poised to do the same (the film was in competition at Berlin).

Ellepi’s ties abroad

Leo Pescarolo’s Ellepi Film looked abroad as co-producer of the French pic “Milou In May” and made a big investment in the Moroccan “The Battle Of The Three Kings.” Its all-Italian production “Towards Evening,” directed by Francesca Archibugi, made a critical splash.

Veteran triple-crown producers Dania-National-Medusa Distribuzione continue to be active, though last season’s four middle-budget pictures did little at the domestic boxoffice. Though Luigi and Aurelio De Laurentiis’s Filmauro made only one Italo comedy last season, it was one of the year’s top boxoffice grossers – “Christmas Vacation 1990.”

Giuliani G. De Negri, the Taviani brothers’ producer, made money with the critically acclaimed “The Sun Also At Night,” and found time to produce Antonio Mondo’s dignified debut, “December.” Giuseppe Giovannini’s Cinelife quietly made two quality titles, Francesco Maselli’s “The Secret” and Ugo Gregoretti’s “Musical May.”

Top grossers

Two top-grossing producers are Gianfranco Piccioli (who has popular comic Francesco Nuti under his wing) and Mauro Berardi (ditto for the brilliant comedian Roberto Benigni). The money they make from these golden geese allows them to finance less commercial films by newcomers.

An emerging director is Domenico Procacci of Fandango, a determined indie that has financed all three of Procacci’s low-budget films. The last, “The Station,” was a flash hit that sold all over the world. Procacci, like many Italo producers, reports earning more and more from foreign sales of his films, and the more Italian the film, the better it seems to sell.

Just two years ago, 1,311 producers banded together in the Federation of Independent Producers. Members include Alessandro Verdecchi (prexy), Francesca Noe and Fulvio Wetzl. Their aim is to produce individually but sell collectively, with more bargaining power. A first group of five films is being made with money from RAI-TV.

Another steady producer over the years has been Aristide Massaccesi and his company Filmirage. Last year’s six productions saw the company move out of strictly soft-core and into low-budget horror.

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