'Mother Teresa' first on theatrical slate

Italy’s Lux Vide, the prolific producer of predominantly religious telepics including “The Bible” series, is taking a leaf out of HBO’s book and branching out into movies for theatrical distribution.

First on Lux’s theatrical slate is “Mother Teresa,” which drew a stellar audience of more than 10 million on pubcaster RAI as a two-part mini in October.

Starring Olivia Hussey as the recently beatified missionary nun, $15 million biopic is helmed by Italian TV drama specialist Fabrizio Costa.

Scripted in two versions, for the small and big screens, pic has been cut down to 100 minutes for theatrical by vet British film editor Sean Barton (“The Return of the Jedi”).

That cut of “Teresa” was to be screened at the American Film Market, concluding this week in Santa Monica, Calif., where Lux was hoping to capitalize on interest in biblical subjects provoked by Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

Lux’s English-language film slate is co-produced in partnership with London-based Blue Spice Films, which in turn is a joint venture between the U.K.’s Spice Factory and Italian producer Pete Maggi’s Blue Star shingle.

“TV and film are completely different,” admits Lux Vide CEO Matilde Bernabei. “But when you have strong, universal, character-driven stories, you can work in both mediums.”

To ensure it has these basic ingredients, Lux is developing biopics.

Titles in the pipeline include “Meucci,” about Antonio Meucci, an Italian immigrant to the U.S. who invented the phone so he could talk to his sick wife (Meucci was recently recognized by the U.S. Congress as being the phone’s real inventor rather than Alexander Graham Bell).

Shooting is scheduled to start in spring on the $16 million pic, which will star Alessandro Gassman in the title role. “Teresa” helmer Costa will direct.

Also on the slate is “Edda,” a portrayal of Benito Mussolini’s fiery daughter, Edda Ciano Mussolini, and her rocky relationship with her father, who was the fascist dictator of Italy from 1922 to 1943.

“Edda,” which is still at script stage, is to be directed by vet TV helmer Giorgio Capitani (“Pope John”).

Headed by former pubcaster RAI prexy Ettore Bernabei, Rome-based Lux Vide has produced more than 200 miniseries since it was established in 1992.

Franco Tunisian film producer Tarak Ben Ammar is the company’s second-largest shareholder.

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