Italy's Notorious Pictures Hits Home Run

PARIS — Tapping into the growing market for indie family entertainment fare and canine film lovers, Nicolas Vanier’s “Belle And Sebastien” has lured over one million moviegoers and scored an estimated 6.6 million Euros ($8.2 million) from 320 screens in Italy, where it’s being distributed by Notorious Pictures.

Based on Cecile Aubry’s children’s TV classic, the well-polished movie takes place in the French Alps, amid WWII, and follows the adventures of a six-year-old motherless boy and his friend, a big white dog, as they thwart Nazi attempts to capture French Resistance fighters.

Released in Italy on Jan. 30, “‘Belle And Sebastien’ has joined the handful of majority-French productions that have sold over one million admissions in Italy,” said Adeline Falampin, Gaumont’s international sales manager who inked the deal with Notorious.

Italy’s top-grossing French-language film remains Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano’s “Intouchables” (2.5 million tickets sold), followed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “Amelie” (1.5 million tickets) and Mathieu Kassovitz’”The Crimson Rivers” (1.2 million tickets).  As it’s still playing on 200 screens,”Belle And Sebastien”‘s final tally could well surpass “Amelie”‘s B.O. perf in Italy.

Roberto Proia, general manager at Notorious, orchestrated a creative, out-of-the-box marketing campaign across Italy, including a “Dog Carpet premiere” (pictured above) hosted in Rome, where VIP guests were allowed to bring their pets to the screening. “It was the first time a dog could enter a cinema and that gathered huge coverage,” said Proia, who joined Notorious Pictures from Moviemax in 2012.

Proia also brought in a “Belle” lookalike dog and got it to participate in various local TV shows. And he linked up with the OIPA (International Organization for Animal Protection) to give a percentage of box office proceedings to the org.

The pic owes its success to the popularity of the 80’s “Belle and Sebastien” show, as well as its potential to target multiple demos, beyond tykes and families, Proia argues.

The independent distributor cut TV spots emphasizing the nature element and the upbeat reviews to engage the single adult audience.

While homegrown fare and U.S. films still monopolize the bulk of the Italian B.O., Proia claims “there is an ever growing appetite for films from other territories” and “French films have always been popular in Italy.”

Other foreign films on Notorious films’ slate include Christophe Gans’ “Beauty And The Beast” with Lea Seydoux and Vincent Cassel (released today), Pascal Chaumeil’s “A Long Way To Go” and Atom Egoyan’s “Devil’s Knot.”

Produced by Radar and Epithete Films, “Belle And Sebastien” is already a major coup for Gaumont, which released the $15 million movie on Dec. 18 in France – where it grossed over $23 million –, and has already sold it to many international territories.

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