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Box Office for Italian Films Hits 30% Market Share, But Lower Pic Prod Coin is Worrying Trend

In the year when Italian cinema took the foreign-language Oscar for “The Great Beauty,” the country’s film industry is going through a transformative phase.

First the positives: The local box office in 2013 was up, albeit a mere 1.4% to €624.9 million ($830 million), and the first quarter of 2014 shows a more substantial 13% box office uptick compared with the same 2013 period. This, despite Italy still being in the throes of its worse recession ever. More importantly, Italian movies accounted for 30% of last year’s intake. That’s among the highest local market shares in Europe.

On the downside: In January the Italian Culture Ministry disclosed alarming figures showing a 27% drop in Italo film investments in 2013 to $495 million, compared with 2012, while the country’s cinematic output remained substantially stable, at 167 pictures.

Partly due to pics shot digitally on the cheap, the average budget of an Italian movie these days is a modest $2.3 million.

Producer Riccardo Tozzi, who heads Italy’s motion picture association Anica, warns that shrinking budgets of mid-range-budget Italian movies would also cause the box office share commanded by domestic pics at home to contract. And others in the industry started sounding a familiar death knell.

But it’s impossible to deny that there are some overwhelmingly positive signs.

“The numbers tell us that our cinema not only isn’t dead, but that we can reach some important goals if we allow our potential to bear fruit,” says Nicola Borrelli, who heads the culture ministry’s film department, speaking at a recent confab.

That potential has actually already been scoring pretty systematically. Besides its Oscar win, Italy took last’s year’s Venice Golden Lion with Gianfranco Rosi’s docu “Sacro GRA”; it then won the Rome Film Festival’s top nod with another docu titled “TIR”; and, last but not least, recently scooped up the Cannes Grand Prix, the fest’s second most-important prize, with drama “The Wonders” by 32-year-old helmer Alice Rohrwacher. “Wonders” is about the inexorable evaporation of healthy rural traditions in Tuscany. Rohrwacher heads the Venice Lion of the Future jury.

The unexpected Cannes coup in May served as major as a confidence-booster for the Italian industry, coming in tandem with good news that the government approved a renewal of its tax incentives.

It also raised film production tax credits, doubling the $6.7 million cap on the generous 25% tax credit for foreign film and, now also, TV productions. That cap is now $13.6 million, which means Italy can now aspire to attract more big-budget international co-productions from Hollywood and elsewhere.

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