Local films snagged by foreign agents

Italian producers employ international tactics

If you’re looking to acquire a title hailing from Italy this Cannes, chances are you won’t spend much time in the offices of the half-dozen Italo sales agents dotted up and down the Croisette.

Italy’s producers are increasingly placing their pics with non-Italo companies, leaving their compatriot film exporters out in the cold.

Daniele Luchetti’s Un Certain Regard screener “My Brother Is an Only Child,” produced by Rome-based Cattleya, is being repped by ThinkFilm.

In the Marche, France’s TF1 Intl. is selling Francesca Archibugi’s coming-of-age tale “Flying Lessons” and Alessandro D’Alatri’s political farce “Commediasexi.” Paris-based Films Distribution is ushering the market preem of Ferzan’s Ozpetek’s social drama “Saturn in Opposition.”

“We’ve sold a lot of our films through foreign sales companies,” Cattleya producer Marco Chimenz says.

The decade-old production outfit has led the way in using foreign agents. Its first film, “Tea With Mussolini,” was sold through Universal Pictures, and since then the company has placed its titles with the likes of Bavaria, Capitol and TF1 Intl.

Chimenz says Cattleya likes to sell its pics through companies with strong links to the “big distributors in the major territories” and prestigious English-language lineups.

“We want our films to be in good company — we think it helps their prospects,” he explains.

Beyond this, he adds, no Italian sales company is able to stump up decent minimum guarantees.

Italy’s tight-knit community of Rome-based sales vets are, not surprisingly, concerned by the trend. But is there anything they can do to counter it?

“It’s a delicate subject; we can’t compel local producers to sell their films through us,” says Adriana Chiesa of Adriana Chiesa Enterprises.

“It’s simply a consequence of globalization,” says a resigned Sesto Cifola, head of RAI Trade, which handles international distribution of all RAI product, from film to sport.

“RAI Cinema does a lot more co-productions, and many of these films end up being sold by foreigners — if they put the money in, it’s only natural,” he explains.

The company — which used to bring slates packed with new RAI-backed pics to Cannes — won’t preem a single new title in the market.

Intramovies has taken an “If you can’t join ’em, beat ’em” approach. International sales manager Jeff Nuyts trawls the fest circuit for promising titles by first- and second-time directors of any nationality. This strategy has been moderately successful. The company sold Chilean sex comedy “En la cama” (In Bed), for example, into a number of territories.

Its Cannes slate includes just one Italian production — Davide Marengo’s film noir “Night Bus,” starring Giovanna Mezzogiorno and Valerio Mastandrea. Its other market preems — “On Evil Grounds” and “All the Invisible Things” — hail from Austria.

Intramovies topper Paola Corvino, who has spent some 30 years in the film sales biz, doesn’t seem entirely comfortable with the strategy.

The transnationalization of film sales, she says, is not necessarily a good thing for Italian cinema or any national cinema for that matter.

“I think the trend is confusing international buyers — they no longer have a point of reference, and beyond this our films lose visibility in slates with strong titles and big-name casts,” she says.

Chiesa, whose stable of respected Italian directors has remained relatively intact, echoes these sentiments.

“I would beg Italian producers to take into account the passion with which we work to get Italian films sold all over the world,” she emphasizes. “We participate in the sale of Italian films with a different spirit than a foreign sales agent working with a one-off Italian title.”

Corvino, Chiesa and a handful of other Italo film exporters recently broke away from Byzantinelike Italian film industry umbrella body Anica to form sales companies association Unefa (which, however, uses the same acronym as the old sales org).

“We’re hoping our stripped-down structure and sales-focused approach will enable us to act more effectively,” Corvino says.

The group, which was launched in March, has already had talks with Italy’s Institute of Foreign Trade about what can be done to help local sales companies.

For starters, Corvino would like to see changes to the Italian banking system.

“It’s the only system in Europe which won’t permit the guarantee of loans against audiovisual product,” she says.

Chiesa, meanwhile, would like it made compulsory that any Italo pic receiving state finance be repped by a local company.

Whether such measures can be implemented remains to be seen.

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