ROME – Fox Italy has announced that Paul Zonderland, a former head of Disney in Italy, has been appointed its managing director just as Osvaldo De Santis is retiring after 33 years as chief executive in charge of distribution in the country.
Zonderland, who is Dutch, worked with the Walt Disney Company between 1992 and 2013. Starting in 1998 he was General Manager of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures Italy for nearly 13 years, then went to head The Walt Disney Company in Benelux. He is considered an innovator in distribution in Italy and also well-versed in the delicate diplomacy necessary to navigate the sometimes contentious Italian film community.
In May, for example, Fox came under fire from Italian exhibitors for postponing the country’s release of “Independence Day: Resurgence” from its announced July 6 date to a Sept. 8 slot. The exhibitors feared the move would have a negative impact on Italy’s summer box-office take, historically a sore spot. Italy’s summer box office was indeed scarce again this year.
Zonderland will take on the job starting in January. He will report directly to Paul Higginson, who is Twentieth Century Fox’s EVP Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“Fox Italy has a successful track record under the leadership of Osvaldo De Santis,” Higginson said in a statement. “We will greatly miss Osvaldo, who retires after 33 years at Fox, but we are extremely excited to have someone of Zonderland’s caliber bring his wealth of experience on board to continue to drive our business forward and upwards in Italy.”
Speaking at an Italian exhibitors’ meet in Sorrento, De Santis said he had initially decided to step down from the post in June, but had been asked by Fox to continue through December.
“I have been accused of having an overly personal way of working,” he said. “But maybe that’s because I have always been passionate about my job.”
Fox is known for having a formidable distribution machine in Italy, basically built by De Santis thanks to his deep knowledge of the dynamics of the Italian market. While De Santis may have run into friction sometimes, he generally maximized the intake of each Fox film in Italian cinemas.
The first Fox title out in Italy in 2017 will be “Assassin’s Creed.”