Italo Auds Swell While Local Production Lags

While Italy’s exhibitors are taking heart as national B.O. receipts climb steadily out of the doldrums of recent years, their colleagues in the film production sector are fretting that local product is being left behind. National film output is down, production investment is dwindling and audiences are continuing to snub home-grown fare.

Commenting on the situation in his annual report, Carmine Cianfarani, president of national film producers association ANICA, called it “a decidedly dangerous condition for Italian film production.”

“In the space of two years the number of films produced, including co-productions, has dropped by 32, and investment by $36.25 million,” continued Cianfarani. “One can almost call it a collapse of the sector. Film production has now reached a level below which it is difficult to imagine any future other than its disappearance.”

National productions in 1994 numbered 95, only 71 of which were exclusively Italian. The total is 11 down on 1993, and an alarming 32 less than in 1992. This marks the first time in eight years and only the fourth time since 1950 that the number of Italian films made has slipped beneath 100.

Conversely, figures reveal that more Italians than ever are going to the movies. Final tallies for 1994 will not be made available until spring, but preliminary estimates peg theater admissions for the year at 98 million. This represents a hike of 6% on 1993’s total of 92 million, and a considerable increase on the lowly 1992 count of 83.6 million.

At a glance, receipts for local entries look healthy next to the previous year’s pallid results, when not a single Italo entry grossed more than 10 billion lire ($6.25 million) in the principal cities. But the increase is almost entirely due to an isolated trio of powerhouse titles.

The year’s biggest earner overall was the Roberto Benigni comedy “The Monster,” which raked in $21.5 million in Italy’s key cities. A comedy transporting the corruption scandals of modern Italy back to ancient Rome, “S.P.Q.R.: 2,000 and a Half Years Ago,” opened Dec. 16 and amassed a whopping $9.3 million over the same area by New Year.

Both Filmauro releases are still going strong, with national totals to date of around $34 million and $17 million respectively.

The other runaway hit was Penta/Cecchi Gori Group’s “The Postman,” the swan song of popular Neapolitan thesp Massimo Troisi, who died early last year. The film grossed $8 million in Italy’s principal locations, and the national tally is currently at $9.9 million.

But while several other Italo releases earned favorable reviews and a decent run at local wickets, results failed to make much of a dent in the box office domination of U.S. entries, which continue to account for some 75% of national admissions.

Cianfarani was pessimistic about the outlook for 1995. Though the level of co-productions involving Italy remains relatively stable, total investment in exclusively Italian productions in 1994 fell to $156 million. The country’s enduring economic woes look likely to keep that figure down.

Together with Producers Union president Gianni Massaro, Cianfarani also launched an attack against the administrative board of pubcaster RAI for its continued failure to support the local film industry through the acquisition of broadcasting rights.

RAI’s recent announcement of the pickup of a pricey package of 30 MGM titles including eight TV premieres made Cianfarani see red. “I find it shameful that the government television does not take national interests into account,” he said, “and that the new board’s first important financial investment is made in a major studio across the Atlantic, completely ignoring Italian cinema.”

Cianfarani announced his intention to broach the matter with government reps, calling for closer examination of laws ruling the television industry.

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