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CGG gets homegrown

Italo entries power distrib's strong nat'l grosses

ROME — The 50 titles released by the Cecchi Gori Group during the just-concluded season grossed just under $127 million, accounting for a hefty 27% of the total Italian national market.

But while the performance of pickups such as “The English Patient,” “Evita” and “Up Close and Personal” made strong contributions to the group’s overall results, it was domestic productions, led by Leonardo Pieraccioni’s record-breaking comedy “The Cyclone,” that gave CGG the edge over its competitors.

The 37 U.S. and other offshore acquisitions released by CGG this season earned $49 million, while the distrib’s 13 homegrown entries made a startling $78 million, representing 63% of the national grosses for Italian films.

“The Cyclone” has brought in close to $44 million to date, and is still among the country’s top 10 releases after 28 weeks in theaters. Other Italian productions that played well for CGG include Gabriele Salvatores’ “Nirvana” ($8.75 million), Carlo Verdone’s “Crazy About Iris Blond” ($8.75 million) and newcomer Antonio Albanese’s “Freshwater Man” ($6.25 million).

“The phenomenon of ‘The Cyclone’ is a very important one that will open up new roads for the future,” said Vittorio Cecchi Gori. “In 40 years of activity, the majority of our investment has always been in Italian film. If everyone else had done the same, the national film industry would never have slipped into such a problematic state.”

While Cecchi Gori continues to advocate the need to push Italian films into offshore markets, industry observers lately have noted a shift in focus for CGG’s production division away from ambitious big-budget fare to low-concept comedies budgeted in the $2 million to $3 million region, such as “The Cyclone” and Pieraccioni’s forthcoming “Fireworks,” which currently is shooting.

But Cecchi Gori doesn’t seem fazed by competition from Fininvest film division Medusa — CGG’s former Penta Film partner — which recently has begun backing major films by directors like Bernardo Bertolucci, Giuseppe Tornatore, Franco Zeffirelli and Dario Argento, the kind of high-profile, highly exportable projects that formerly were a staple of the Cecchi Gori lineup.

“It’s good to see that the Penta Film experience was useful in some way,” commented Cecchi Gori.

CGG’s upcoming production slate may be lower on pedigree projects than in the past, but the diverse lineup includes several potential arthouse sellers, such as Sergio Rubini’s period pic “The Journey of the Bride,” Daniele Luchetti’s World War II partisan drama “I Piccoli Maestri” and Enzo D’Alo’s “The Story of a Seagull and the Cat that Taught Her to Fly,” which is the first animated feature from CGG.

Further down the line will be Gianni Amelio’s “Cosi Ridevano,” which the director currently is scripting with Vincenzo Cerami, and the final film from Cecchi Gori’s exclusive contract with Salvatores. This will likely be the adventure pic “Corto Maltese,” with Christopher Lambert.

Cecchi Gori also announced that the group will produce a low-budget project directed by Martin Scorsese to be shot in Italy. Details are expected to be announced in November.

In recent weeks, Cecchi Gori has been making statements about the need for strategic French-Italian film industry alliances, and is believed to be the Italian distrib negotiating to come in with French media heavyweights Canal Plus and Pathe on the reciprocal distribution pact that was signed by other Euro territories at Cannes.

While no official announcement has so far been made, a CGG insider confirmed that the group’s participation in the deal probably will be finalized soon.

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