Po Kung Fu Panda
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

ROME – The upcoming Italian release of “Kung Fu Panda 3” is prompting pandemonium in Italy where Fox has booked hundreds of local screens for previews of the blockbuster toon on the weekend prior to its scheduled official March 17 Italo release without giving its competitors much advance notice.

The March 12 and 13 “Panda 3” previews allegedly sprung by 20th Century Fox Italy are incensing Italo distributors who are claiming they are being unfairly forced to reschedule their releases late in the game due to Fox breaking a gentlemen’s agreement and causing them hundreds of thousands of Euros in damages.

“It’s an act of arrogance,” laments Andrea Occhipinti topper of prominent Italo indie shingle Lucky Red. “I found out about these previews, which are tantamount to a release, just 10 days before my planned March 3 release of ‘Heidi,’ which risked being damaged big time by ‘Kung Fu Panda’ in its second weekend.” The two titles clearly target a similar family demographic.

Lucky Red has therefore been forced to reposition the Italo release of the “Heidi” reboot, which is produced by Gallic giant Studiocanal, for March 24 after spending Euros 800,000 ($868,000), it claims, to promote the pic positioned in that March 3 slot. Occhipinti, who also heads Italy’s distributors’ org, says that the “Panda” previews have forced Lucky Red to spend an additional Euros 200,000 ($217,000) to promote its new March 24 “Heidi” outing.

For the “Kung Fu Panda 3” March 12 and 13 previews, prior to its March 17 wide release in Italy, Fox is believed to have booked at least 400 Italian screens out of a total roughly 4,000.

A Fox Italia spokesman said they had no comment at this time. Fox Italia topper Osvaldo De Santis has personally spoken to the disgruntled Italian distributors and is said to be doing all he can to smooth things over.

While Occhipinti was able to reposition “Heidi” on the release calendar, prominent Italo company Medusa was unable to find an alternate slot for its Italo comedy “Forever Young,” about middle aged Italians striving for eternal youth, by local hitmaker Fausto Brizzi, which will go out on March 10 on 500 screens.

“Fox had done this before when it booked screens for short notice previews of ‘Penguins of Madagascar’,” says Medusa topper Giampaolo Letta. “And this had caused an uproar, after which they had promised not to do it again,” he adds.

Letta and others say that following the “Penguins” incident in November 2014 a gentleman’s agreement had been reached by Italian distributors with Fox during a meeting at Italy’s motion picture association Anica.

Both “Panda 3” and “Penguins” are titles from DreamWorks with which Fox has a distribution deal.

Another pic purportedly impacted by Fox’s “Panda” previews in Italy is “The Divergent Series: Allegiant,” the third instalment in Lionsgate’s “Divergent” franchise, which is being released in Italy by Eagle Pictures on March 9.

“We invested one million Euros to promote this film and now it could go to waste,” lamented Eagle topper Andrea Goretti to Italian trade publication Box Office. “At this point we need written rules,” Goretti opined.

“When you are so close to a release date and you find yourself facing a surprise of this type, it’s obvious that it wreaks havoc,” said Raffaella Leone, whose Leone Film Group is co-distributing “Allegiant” with Eagle. “It’s simply an unfair business practice.”

The ‘Panda’ pandemonium stems largely from the fact that Italy has a particularly crowded theatrical release schedule due to the scarcity of releases in summer, a structural stumbling block that creates a glut of product during the rest of the year.

“Panda 3” has grossed more than $300 million globally since its January 29 rollout with plenty more territories still to come, including Europe, parts of Asia excluding China, and most of Latin America.

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