Classic pic catalogue gobbled up Stateside

ROME — One year after launching in the U.S., Italy’s RaroVideo is expanding its wide-ranging offerings, which span from horrormeister Mario Bava to Bernardo Bertolucci, and venturing from homevid into theatrical distribution.

Thanks largely to American cinephiles, enticed by the company’s high-definition transfers of director’s cuts, RaroVideo is emerging as a top European shingle for vintage, cult and cutting-edge works, having grown to 250 titles since brothers Stefano and Gianluca Curti launched the specialty label in Italy in 1999 as an offshoot of their Rome-based Minerva Pictures, with Andy Warhol’s underground pic “The Chelsea Girls.”

Now, with deals in place with Netflix and iTunes, Gianluca Curti says Raro is poised to venture into American theatrical releases of vintage titles, both in digital and celluloid formats. Its first U.S. theatrical release will be either a classic title, or Giuseppe Gagliardi’s gritty 2011 “Tatanka,” a drama about a young boxer caught up with the Neapolitan mob underworld, produced under the Raro banner.

Raro USA’s most recent release is cult chiller “The Night of the Devils” by Giorgio Ferroni with special effects by the late Carlo Rambaldi (“E.T. The Extra Terrestrial”)

Concurrently with its Stateside launch, Raro has been stepping up its highbrow side with, among other offerings, Luchino Visconti’s Burt Lancaster-starrer “Conversation Piece” and upcoming releases Francesco Rosi’s “Many Wars Ago” and Roberto Rossellini’s Vittorio De Sica-starrer “General Della Rovere,” along with a second Fernando Di Leo box set.

Also in the works is a new restoration of Jean Renoir’s Italy-set classic “The Golden Coach,” with Anna Magnani.

“The Golden Coach” re-issue, being done in tandem with pic’s original producer Francesco Alliata, will put Raro in direct competition with the existing Criterion Collection version.

At the Venice Film Festival earlier this year, Gianluca Curti was exulting about a rave from the New York Times for Raro’s restored edition of Alberto Lattuada’s “Il Cappotto,” a 1952 adaptation of Gogol’s classic story “The Overcoat” transposed to early postwar Italy.

“It’s not easy to grow roots in the American industry,” said Curti. “But enthusiastic feedback from the critics is encouraging.”

RaroVideo’s Stateside division, which is based in Minneapolis, was formed in December 2010 as a partnership between the Curti brothers and Nico Bruinsma’s Cult Epics with distribution in place via Entertainment One. Stefano Curti is the U.S. rep.

Their first U.S. launch, in February 2011, was a digitally remastered edition of Federico Fellini’s “The Clowns,” along with their four-disc “The Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection,” which includes “The Boss,” among the super-violent 1970s noirs by the cult Italo B-movie master cited by Quentin Tarantino as an inspiration. Many of Di Leo’s works were produced by the Curtis’ father.

At Venice this year, Raro was more visible than ever, both as new sponsor of the critics’ week section and as Italo homevid distributor of Japanese classic “Carmen Comes Home,” which unspooled in Venice Classics.

Last year, gritty immigration drama “La-Bas. A Criminal Education,” helmed by tyro helmer Guido Lombardi and produced by Curti’s Minerva, took the Lido crix week nod.

Since then, Minerva has been stepping up its production of cutting-edge contempo Italo pics, and started acquiring some international titles. It recently stepped into Italo theatrical distribution with “Thank You for Sharing,” toplining Mark Ruffalo and Gwyneth Paltrow, helmed by Stuart Blumberg.

Meanwhile Raro is the Italo editor and homevid distributor of a high-quality box set by U.S. video artist Bill Viola.

“What we have been trying to do is create a label for rare films by influential artists in a wide range of genres,” Gianluca Curti says.

Though Raro accounts for only about 10%-15% of Minerva’s sales, Curti says he finds the label gratifying. “It allows me to work with huge artists and attain levels of creative and artistic heights that would otherwise be very hard to reach,” he says.

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