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Cuts threaten Venice fest, La Scala

Italian treasury announces plans to slash arts fund

The Venice Film Festival and Milan’s La Scala Opera House are among cultural institutions that will be hanging in the balance if draconian spending cuts planned by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government get the greenlight.

Dogged by a stagnant economy and a ballooning budget deficit, the Italian treasury has announced it intends to slash the arts fund — known as Fondo Unico Spettacolo — from E442 million ($536 million) to $363 million next year.

The Venice fest would see public financing shrivel from this year’s already measly $6.7 million to a mere $2.4 million next year.

“If this budget gets approved, I doubt that we will have a festival next year,” Biennale topper Davide Croff said Thursday.

National entertainment workers body Agis called a protest strike for Oct. 14 that could shutter cinemas, theaters and concert halls.

Italy’s ailing film community is horrified at the prospect of a cut in funds from $101 million to $65.5 million for 2006, just as production financing had begun to flow again in January after a two-year freeze. “Berlusconi is saying the (budget) blanket is short. But this kind of financing for culture is more like a napkin,” Italo motion picture association Anica and independent producers org API lamented in a joint statement.

The orgs point out that “France invests about 10 times as much as Italy” in its film industry.

Indeed, despite national budget cuts, France recently upped the funds it allocates for culture by 3% to $3.2 billion for 2006. About $606 million of that sum goes to the Gallic audiovisual industry.

“Either we close La Scala, or we close our museums,” Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione complained to Corriere della Sera newspaper on Thursday.

Based on the French model, the Italo culture czar is pushing to introduce a special tax on cinema admissions and homevid hardware and software to fund local moviemaking and film institutions.

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