Italy

Summer should heat up tepid box office

RECENT PICKUPS
· The Ax (Fandango)
· The Bow (Mikado)
· Dalecarlians (Teodora Film)
· How Much Do You Make (BIM)
· A Thousand Plateaux (Lucky Red)
2004 STATS
Top film: The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Medusa, $28 million)
Top indie: The Passion of the Christ (Eagle Pictures, $24 million)
Total B.O.: $748 million
Releases: 368
Screens: 3,100
Source: Cinetel

ROME — Admissions are sagging in Italy so far this year, down at least 10%, yet prospects are quite positive. The B.O. is expected to improve thanks to a summer season packed with Hollywood fare and upcoming releases of promising local pics including Roberto Benigni’s “The Tiger and the Snow.”

In an effort to end the country’s age-old summer box office blues, Hollywood majors have finally added Italy to their European day-and-date launches between May and July. Blockbusters including Fox’s “Star Wars: Episode III — The Revenge of the Sith” and UIP’s “The War of the Worlds” are expected to let the sun shine in.

Unlike in 2004, indie titles have not been thriving. Titles such as “Hotel Rwanda” and mountain-climbing drama “Touching the Void” haven’t performed as well as expected. However, docus have gained traction in the niche trenches.

“In the current slump, we’ve found documentaries to be the best buy,” says Domenico Procacci, topper of production/distribution indie Fandango, which recently released “Super Size Me,” “The Corporation” and “The Take.” “You release them small, get good per-screen averages and then do nicely on DVD.”

While the homevid sector is up more than 30%, free- and pay-TV sales remain slim. Top terrestrial broadcasters RAI and Mediaset stock up on product from their respective production and distribution arms. Also, the lone pay-TV player, Sky Italia, pays a pittance for pic rights.

“Italy is really an anomaly,” laments former Cecchi Gori exec Claudio Tinari, who at Cannes will be seeking mainstream family pics, in his new guise as buyer for TV production house Lux Vide, which has branched out as a film distribbery. “That said, it’s a growing market,” he adds.

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