Extreme makeover, Italian style

Filmitalia restructuring again

ROME — Will Italy’s film promo body Filmitalia survive the nth attempt to reconfigure its company structure and, even worse, change its name again?

Italy’s cinematic community certainly hopes so.

The small but solidly serviceable entity born seven years ago as the Italo version of Gaul’s revered Unifrance has since been restructured and renamed three times — it was first known as Italia Cinema, then AIP-Filmitalia, and presently just Filmitalia.

Now a plan to fold in Filmitalia with Cinecitta Holding, its parent company located on the Cinecitta Studio lot — which would also absorb state film entity Istituto Luce — has set alarm bells ringing.

“Filmitalia’s strength is that it is a small structure with a strong sense of identity and its own modus operandi,” says feisty Filmitalia topper Irene Bignardi, formerly director of the Locarno fest.

“If we were folded into a bigger structure, the chain-of-command would become complicated and decision-making cumbersome, plus it would be a real shame to shed a name which has become known internationally.”

With 12 staffers and an office on the Aurelian Way, the agency that provides marketing and logistical help to Italian movies at festivals and marts, offers practical advice to tap into promotional incentives, and sets up Italo pic showcases around the world, has been through a lot of changes over the course of three governments.

Set up as Italia Cinema under center-left rule in 2000, it was merged into a superstructure that also managed — and ultimately gave the kiss of death to — the now-defunct Mifed mart, under the subsequent Silvio Berlusconi-led conservative government.

Having survived five years under Berlusconi, and now morphed into Filmitalia, it is ironic that the supposedly pro-arts current center-left government could pose a new peril.

“My team is like the last Japanese soldiers on a desert island during WWII who kept up the fight even after the war was over,” is how Bignardi describes life in the Filmitalia trenches.

The current plan to fold Filmitalia into Cinecitta Holding is part of a larger restructuring that would see its parent company sell off the 25% share it still holds in Cinecitta Studios, shed its heavily in-the-red Mediaport exhibition chain, and absorb Filmitalia and Istituto Luce which, besides its vast film archives, also finances and distributes works by young Italo filmmakers.

Proposed as a cost-cutting measure, the planned absorption of Filmitalia and Istituto Luce is considered by some insiders as a move to bolster Cinecitta Holding’s very existence once the entity no longer has any connection with the studios.

While Cinecitta Holding’s top management did not reply to an interview request, the state-run company’s managing director Francesco Carducci has responded in La Repubblica to protests from recently created film directors org Centautori — whose members include Bernardo Bertolucci — that the planned absorption is not cast in stone, and needs to be approved by Italo culture czar Francesco Rutelli.

Cinecitta Holding was recently described as “useless” by filmmaker Pupi Avati, who served as its prexy during the Berlusconi days and subsequently stepped down. Among its many activities, the unit presently promotes classic Italian cinema, setting up such important retros as July’s “Signore e Signore” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, highlighting Italian actresses throughout the decades from Sophia Loren to Asia Argento.

But Cinecitta also has been known to squander euros on celebrations such as the lavish party it held earlier this year for its 70th anni, which sources say cost a whopping e700,000 ($1 million).

Being that that’s about one- third of Filmitalia’s budget, perhaps that’s where Cinecitta Holding could have started the cost-cutting.

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