Coin infusion to stoke film, TV prod'n

ROME — With new investors in place and two high-profile international English-lingo features ready to roll, Rome-based production stable Cattleya is beefing up its slate in an aggressive bid to become Italy’s leading independent audiovisual producer.

Cattleya principals Riccardo Tozzi, Marco Chimenz and Giovanni Stabilini recently announced a 20% boost to company capital, with publishing and media giant De Agostini and powerhouse financial group San Paolo IMI Private Equity each taking a 10% stake.

The cash infusion will be channeled into increased film and television production, covering nine to 10 features in the coming year with an overall budget of $50 million-$55 million, plus an additional $12 million-$15 million going into small-screen projects. Cattleya currently has some 30 features in development.

‘Game’ afoot

Heading Cattleya’s production slate for 2001 is the $18 million Liliana Cavani thriller “Ripley’s Game” for Fine Line, which goes before cameras Jan. 15 for a 12-week shoot in Italy’s Veneto region, Rome and Germany.

John Malkovich steps into the role of Patricia Highsmith’s cynical hero, who manipulates an innocent family man, played by Dougray Scott (“Mission: Impossible 2″), into becoming an assassin. Fine Line will release the pic in North America, with Fine Line Intl. handling worldwide rights. Other key cast is due to be announced.

Also readying for an April shoot in France and Spain is Franco Zeffirelli’s “Callas Forever,” a $17 million drama about the legendary diva’s ill-fated comeback attempt during the final period of her life in Paris. Greek opera star Teresa Stratas will play the title role, with Jeremy Irons in negotiations to co-star. Other elements in the European co-production are still coming together.

Balanced approach

“There are producers who are more creative and others who are more business-minded,” said Tozzi. “Our aim as a company is to cover both those areas. There have been enormous changes recently in the mentality of Italian filmmakers, showing a new desire to communicate directly with their audience. Maximizing that creative energy requires a new entrepeneurial approach,” he emphasized.

“A company with such ambitious plans needs to be sufficiently well-structured, with the right know-how to initiate and develop new projects,” Stabilini added. “But it also needs to be adequately financed; the entry of De Agostini and San Paolo as investors allows us to bring our plans to fruition.”

Chimenz confirmed that multinational co-productions are high on Cattleya’s agenda, allowing the company not only to bring in international talent to increase commercial potential and offshore salability of Italian features but also to place Italian cast members in international pics.

Pipeline thickens

Other upcoming projects from Cattleya include Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic’s English-language pic “How Harry Became a Tree,” a comic parable set in 1930s Ireland with Colm Meaney and Adrian Dunbar, currently in post; and Italian Marcello Cesena’s comedy “South Seas,” now shooting at Cinecitta, starring Diego Abatantuono and Victoria Abril.

Also in the pipeline is Michele Placido’s “A Journey Called Love,” chronicling the romance between feminist writer Sibilla Aleramo and poet Dino Campana; Sandro Dionisio’s Naples set WWII-tale “The Three-Legged Fox”; and new films from Cristina Comencini, Enzo Monteleone, Sergio Castellitto and Eros Puglielli, as well as the next project from Paskaljevic.

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