Hard for exhibs to find piece of action

H'wood pix largely absent from summertime screens

ROME– Italo exhibs are set to open a slew of home-grown pics and light Hollywood fare this summer in place of blockbusters that have lured locals into theaters the past three seasons.

Traditionally a dead time for the box office, summer 2002 showed a 144% upswing over 1999 thanks to air-conditioned multiplexes and releases including “Mission: Impossible 2” in 2000, “The Mummy Returns” and “Shrek” in 2001, and “Spider-Man” and “Blade 2” in 2002.

Exhibs hoped the trend would continue but, apart from “The Matrix: Reloaded” due on Italo screens May 25, big Hollywood pics will be largely absent — and they fear auds will be, too.

Potential summer blockbusters opening in other foreign territories this summer include “The Hulk,” “Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines,” “Tomb Raider 2: The Cradle of Life” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

In Italy, these films will open from Aug. 29 through October. Many exhibs claim this makes the season too short.

”The situation is not satisfactory for exhibs or the industry,” says Nicola Grispello, director of film buying and marketing at Warner Village Cinemas.

“The summer market has almost tripled since 1998,” says Grispello. “With the releases planned this summer, we risk going backwards two years, and losing the positive trend.”

UIP had moved “The Hulk” from its Aug. 29 slot to July 4 after complaints from worried exhibs — but it was forced to move it back to Aug. 29 when advertising and promotional partners couldn’t make the earlier date.

” ‘Hulk’ is very important for us,” says Marco D’Andrea, UIP’s sales manager in Italy. ”We were obliged to respect the original release date,” although he believes the pic could have earned more with a July opening.

This leaves Italy without a big opener that month, despite the presence of Columbia TriStar’s ”Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” on July 4. Exhibs are not sure of its potential, as the first “Angels,” released Nov. 2000, was not an overwhelming success, earning roughly $4.3 million, according to Aldo Lemme, Columbia TriStar’s senior marketing director in Italy.

“Terminator 3” opens Sept. 19 because, says Lemme, “we didn’t want to release one film right after the other. We prefer to leave more space.

While action pics tend to translate best at foreign wickets, Lemme says Columbia TriStar offers a full summer roster of pics in Italy, including comedies “Bruce Almighty” starring Jim Carrey, which bows May 30, and “Anger Management (June 20). Homegrown pics opening in early summer include “Piazza delle Cinque Lune” (Square of Five Moons) by Renzo Martinelli (May 9), “La vita come viene’ (Life as It Comes) by Stefano Incerti (May 16), “My Name Is Tanino” by Paolo Virzi (May 30), “A.A.A. Achille” by Giovanni Albanese (June 6) and “Andata ritorno” (Round Trip) by Alessandro Paci (June 20).

Lesser-profile Hollywood pics getting summer releases include “High Crimes,” “Waking up Reno” and “Antwone Fisher” (all May 23), “Feardotcom” (May 30) “A Man Apart” (June 6) and “A View From the Top” (June 6).

However, none of these will fill the gaping void in July.

Giampaolo Sodano, prexy of national distrib union Unidem, contends this summer offers quality pictures — and that auds will back local fare. He adds that Italian auds now go to see films year-round.

“Multiscreen cinemas were dominated by important films over the past three years. Now that there are box office results, we can add Italian films to the summer roster with less fear.”

However, Sodano says the Hollywood majors are still not convinced of the Italian market.

”Once in Italy there were no cinemas open in August; last year there were 1,400 screens. Multiplex cinemas have contributed to the development of the marketplace,” Grispello says. “We think distributors have to take some risks, too and, as time passes, the risks are fewer.”

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