Sources says company paid more than $7 mil for Italo hit

NEW YORK — After several weeks of negotiations, Miramax Films has wrapped its deal to acquire worldwide rights (except Italy) to actor-director Roberto Benigni’s Italian box office hit “Life Is Beautiful” (La Vita e Bella). Industry sources estimate that Miramax paid more than $7 million for the film.

Benigni, who previously wrote and directed “The Monster,” is best known to Stateside auds for his roles in Jim Jarmusch’s “Night on Earth” and “Down by Law.”

A Cecchi Gori production, “Life” was made for $7 million and has grossed more than $35 million since its release nine weeks ago in Italy. The tragicomedy was nominated in six categories for Italy’s Silver Ribbon awards, which will be presented March 28 in Rome.

‘Rare humanity’

“Roberto Benigni continues to prove himself as a filmmaking and performing genius,” said Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. ” ‘La Vita e Bella’ has that rare humanity that will have universal appeal among audiences throughout the world. Miramax is very proud to be handling this film, and we are delighted to be partnered once again with our friends at Cecchi Gori, with whom we set the world on fire with ‘Il Postino.’ “

Set in Tuscany during World War II, “Life” tells the story of an erudite buffoon who uses humor to buffer his wife (Nicholetta Braschi) and infant son from the horrors of Nazism.

Benigni, one of Italy’s leading comedians, wrote the screenplay for “Life” along with Vincenzo Cerami. It was produced by Elda Ferri and Gianluigi Braschi. Mario Cotone was exec producer.

Came to ‘Life’ in London

“Life” was brought to the attention of Miramax by Teresa Moneo, its London-based vice president of acquisitions. After Weinstein flew to Rome to screen the film, Miramax chairman of worldwide distribution Richard Sands and exec VP of acquisitions and co-productions Agnes Mentre arrived two days later to negotiate the deal with Cecchi Gori exec Faruk Atalan and company principal Vittorio Cecchi Gori.

The deal was finalized in the U.S. by Anna Gross and George Hayum, on behalf of Cecchi Gori and Mentre, and Miramax senior vice president of acquisitions and business affairs Andrew Herwitz.

“This is a model for the kinds of creative and business alliances with our family of primary distributors, with whom Miramax Intl. is becoming increasingly involved,” said Sands. “This film’s box office career will know no international boundaries.”

The “Life” deal comes on the heels of two huge deals Miramax made during the Sundance Film Festival, where it paid $6 million for Brad Anderson’s “Next Stop, Wonderland” and his next two films, and $6 million for U.S. and remaining territorial rights for the Australian comedy “The Castle.”

(David Rooney in Rome contributed to this report.)

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