New fee would pit producers versus exhibitors

Italy’s exhibs are threatening to shutter theaters across the country in protest against plans to introduce a €1 ($1.30) tax on movie tickets.

Producers fear the protest may hinder the country’s current cinema boom. Following a banner 2010, Italo cinema is on a roll with a boffo 65% share of the local market in January, led by “Che bella giornata” (What a Beautiful Day).

Helmer Gennaro Nunziante’s comedy, starring Checco Zalone, has taken €41 million ($56 million) since its mid-January release, making it the top local earner ever.

Riccardo Tozzi, prexy of producers’ org Anica, predicts that Italian films will account for more than 40% of the country’s box office in 2011, the highest local market share in the world outside the U.S. and India.

The battle over the proposed tax on theatrical admissions pits exhibs against producers, since coin from the tax is meant to replenish the country’s recently slashed national production fund.

“It’s certainly not the best way of solving the problem, and it may even be unfair, but right now I don’t see an immediate alternative,” Tozzi said at the Rome presser where the 2010 film industry figures were announced.

“We are serious when we say we will shut down cinemas if the tax goes through,” warned Paolo Protti, head of Italy’s exhibitors.

Tozzi enthused over Italy’s 2010 data, which, besides the previously announced 17% rise in box office grosses to $947 million and a 30% local market share, saw a small but significant rise in the local production output to 142 films from 131 in 2009. Total production investment was up 5.5% to $425 million.

“Italy is at a turning point,” said Tozzi, who heads Universal’s Italo production outpost Cattleya. “But without incentives, we risk a drastic reduction of production, just when we need to capitalize on this positive wave.”

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