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RAI, on comeback trail, re-enters prod’n game

Shaking off the dust from a two-year slump in which production and acquisition activity ground virtually to a halt, Italy’s pubcaster RAI has unveiled an aggressive game plan for the 1995-96 season.

At a June 22 press conference, Giampaolo Sodano, RAI’s director of acquisitions, production and co-productions, announced the restructured, economically strengthened pubcaster’s re-entry into the TV and feature film production arena.

With the massive debt pared down and the webs’ habitual political reshuffling stabilized for the moment, RAI has bounced back from the doldrums of 1993 and ’94 with a production budget totaling 460 billion lire ($285 million). That figure will increase in 1996 to $318 million.

TV production will climb by 51% over the next year with an investment of $125 million and a $19 million budget will push RAI’s input in feature film production up by 41%.

The pubcaster also will branch into children’s programs, spending $7.5 million on new kidpics and cartoons, as well as pumping $8.75 million into documentary and music program production.

Sodano announced a more active role for RAI in international ventures, following up on recent announcements regarding an investment of $30 million in U.S. TV movie co-productions.

Major TV co-prods for the upcoming season include Joseph Conrad’s “Nostromo,” “O’Milord,” an Italian transposition of the “Little Lord Fauntleroy” story, “II Grande Fausto,” a mini on the life of legendary cycling champion Fausto Coppi, and “Moses,” the next installment of “The Bible,” produced in association with Ted Turner.

A budget of $210 million for 1996 will give sports programming an increased profile, headed by RAI’s exclusive broadcasts of the Atlanta Olympics (a $37.5 million rights deal) and the European soccer tourneys.

RAI’s film acquisitions block has been lifted with the purchase of broadcasting rights to a hefty slate of U.S. titles that includes “The Fugitive,” “Batman Returns,” “Sister Act” and “Nell,” along with Italo features such as “L’Amore Molesto” and “No Skin.”

The current state of the pubcaster’s broadcasting rights library is seriously depleted, with only 14% of product suitable for primetime airing and 86% for other slots. Sodano hopes to reverse that situation.

Sodano underlined, however, that RAI will focus less on acquisitions than on production. “RAI must assume a more incisive and more concrete role in Italian film production,” he said.

New features in which the pubcaster has a stake include the Taviani brothers’ “Elective Affinities” and Ettore Scola’s “Story of a Poor Young Man.”

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