New generation leads film prod’n rebound

ROME — When the Italian economy took a tumble last fall and joined the world’s recessionites, the movie industry screamed that the sky was falling. Now, however, the gloom merchants are biting their tongues.

Industry lions, as well as attention-grabbing new directors, are back at work; a new generation of actors is stepping into the spotlight; and dynamic young producers are fighting the uncertainty clouding the film-funding horizon.

Nevertheless, there are still plenty of hurdles to a healthy production sector.

The Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, which previously divvied up state film production subsidies, closed shop in August after being nixed by voters. Pubcaster RAI is at a funding standstill while new management mulls over its policies. The long-stalled film production bill is still in the works (though at press time, it was expected to be passed by early September). And Yank fare is currently chomping on a whopping 70% of the national box office.

But Francesco Ventura, head of the former entertainment ministry’s film division, predicts a future that’s not entirely lean.

“The number of films now in production is the same as, or even higher than, last year,” Ventura said. “As of April this year, 52 projects had gotten Article 28 subsidies, though only around 10 have actually gone into production. Others are waiting on presales of TV rights to round out their budgets.

“Whether or not state financing will continue at the same level remains to be seen. But after the film bill is passed, it will be a lot easier to put all the current uncertainties into perspective. Whatever happens, signs indicate that we’ll be able to maintain a decent level of production.”

The entertainment biz now falls under the auspices of the Presidenza del Consiglio, the prime minister’s office. But Ventura says the change of address won’t substantially alter the government’s role in film production. Article 28, which dishes out startup coin to young filmers, will continue, though the structure of the committee that hands out the grants looks set to be reshaped.

Industryites say honing the committee down from a maze of ministerial departments to a nine-member panel would reduce the chances of grants going to questionable quarters. The year’s biggest hoo-ha was over Marina Ripa Di Meana, a prominent parliamentarian’s wife, getting Article 28 coin for the sexy comedy “Bad Girls,” which exited local screens quickly.

“Article 28 money is too often handed to people with no film production experience,” says Alberto Pisa, whose Iris Film Intl. handles projects primarily funded that way. “It’s right that young cinema should be in the hands of young people. But they must have a minimum of experience in film behind them.”

Despite the tough times, Pisa’s production slate is bulging, and this year he plans to diversify into distribution. “RAI has stopped dead,” says Pisa. “It’s not buying or co-producing anything. So producers have to look for other funding sources and set up their own financial networks, either privately or through channels like Eurimages.”

With RAI’s deficit reportedly hovering around $ 400 million, industry sources reckon the new management’s top priority will be to reduce that figure, pushing film production into the back seat.

Traditionally a major presence at the Venice fest, RAI is repped this time by only two feature-length works, Liliana Cavani’s “Where Are You? I’m Here” in competition and a docu by Daniele Incalcaterra in the Window on Images sidebar. RAI-2, once a prolific producer of quality pix, has a hand in only one feature currently in production, Marco Bellocchio’s “The Flight of the Butterfly.”

There’s been a steady exodus from the pubcaster of name helmers like Gianni Amelio, Ermanno Olmi, Giuseppe Tornatore and the Taviani brothers to the greener pastures of Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest, which had two pix at the recent Locarno fest (“Poison” and “The Rebel”) and will unspool two at Venice, Silvio Soldini’s “A Soul Torn in Two” in competition and Paolo Camarca’s “Four Fine Boys” in the Venetian Nights section. Both fly under Berlusconi’s Reteitalia logo.

Penta Film, in which Berlusconi has a 50% stake, is screening three titles at Venice: Giuseppe Piccioni’s “Diary of a Man Condemned to Marriage,” Olmi’s “Secret of the Old Wood” and Leone Pompucci’s “Mille Bolle Blu.”

Recent government quota changes stipulate that 50% of all films broadcast by all Italian webs must be EC productions.

Half of those must be Italian pix, and 20% of those must have been produced in the past five years.

Giuseppe Cereda, head of Berlusconi’s cinema division, has responded by announcing that Fininvest will step up investment in new Italo features to some 15 titles this year, as well as casting a wider net for TV rights. RAI’s response to the new regulations is still unclear.

Penta’s current slate shows little sign of penny-pinching with local movies.

“We have around 20 films in production this season,” says Penta exec Gustavo Van Peteghen. “This is marginally less than last season, but way up in quality, with high-profile projects from some of the country’s best directors.”

Penta’s lineup includes Amelio’s “Lamerica,” Tornatore’s “A Simple Formality, ” Franco Zeffirelli’s “Sparrow” and Gabriele Salvatores’ “South.”

Indie producers and distributors are also investing widely in local talent. Angelo Rizzoli, who produced Amelio’s much-lauded “The Stolen Children,” has unveiled a fattened list of local titles under his Erre Produzioni banner and DARC distribbery. Rizzoli is banking on rising young directors like Pasquale Pozzessere (“Father and Son”) and Soldini.

Aurelio De Laurentiis’ Filmauro has a strong lineup of potentially money-spinning comedies for Christmas, plus almost $ 14 million tied up in the Roberto Benigni starrer “Son of the Pink Panther.”

Helmer Pupi Avati and his producer brother Antonio continue their Filmauro pact, with two pix currently in production.

Giovanni Di Clemente’s Clemi Cinematografica has Giuseppe Ferrara’s “Giovanni Falcone,” about the assassination of the anti-Mafia investigator, starring Michele Placido.

For producer Pietro Valsecchi, Placido himself is set to direct a drama based on the killing of Milanese lawyer Giorgio Ambrosoli in a 1979 international banking scandal. Claudio Bonivento’s Numero Uno Intl. is making a film about the 1975 murder of gay filmer-poet Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Ironically, at a time of belt-tightening, the number of neophyte directors is increasing. Of 127 Italo titles produced in calendar 1992 — down only marginally from 129 in 1991 — 45 were first features, up from 37. Many of these pix, however, didn’t gain national release.

With local production supercharged with big local names, industryites are looking to a buoyant fall season. The 1992-93 season’s alarming drop in admissions — from 13.7 million to 8.8 million — was largely put down to a lack of Christmas offerings from three of the country’s four biggest draws.

This Christmas, all four (Benigni, Francesco Nuti, Massimo Troisi and Carlo Verdone) have pictures ready, with Nuti’s $ 10.6 million Filmone/Penta production “Occhiopinocchio” ballyhooed as one of the most expensive Italo prods of recent years.

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