Venice successes feed a hungry Milan market

ROME — Italian sales companies aren’t turned off by the lack of an official market at the grande dame of European film festivals.

With most international territories elusive to all but a handful of Italo titles each year, sales groups here are looking more and more to advance exposure to build on a pic’s cachet before deal time. Some pre-release fanfare doesn’t hurt at home, either.

Coming at the kickoff of the local cinema season, Venice fits the bill on both counts, say tradesters. The fest is also a valuable preview forum for what will be up for grabs at the Mifed and, to a lesser extent, Mipcom fall markets.

“On a market level, Venice obviously can’t compete with Cannes or Berlin,” says Intrafilm’s Paola Corvino, who this year is repping two competition entries , the Italian-Aussie co-prod “Bad Boy Bubby,” by Rolf De Heer, and Silvio Soldini’s “A Soul Torn in Two.”

“But it’s extremely useful for establishing contacts with a select group of clients,” she adds. “And a good critical verdict in Venice often has direct results on sales at Mifed.”

“Unofficially, Mifed is Venice’s market,” says Enrico Di Mambro, commercial director of Sacis, pubcaster RAI’s sales/distrib arm. “A good reception at Venice helps spread the word about a new film, and certainly makes our job easier when it comes to making a sale.”

Much of Sacis’ meat and potatoes comes from TV sales of Italo soccer matches. But the outfit, which racked up $ 1.25 million in international film sales last year, has long been a driving force behind selling art-house titles like “The Stolen Children” and this year’s Fine Line pickup “Fiorile” by the Taviani brothers.

At Venice this year, Sacis has the Liliana Cavani-directed “Where Are You? I’m Here” in competition. “Popularity with audiences and critics in Venice can do a lot, particularly for a film’s local status,” Di Mambro says.

“In the past couple of years, Maurizio Zaccaro’s ‘Where the Night Begins’ and Carlo Mazzacurati’s “Another Life’ both performed well locally thanks to a strong kickoff in Venice.

“A jury prize is even better. Last year’s Special Grand Jury Prize for ‘Death of a Neapolitan Mathematician’ helped give it the launch it needed,” says Di Mambro. Mario Martone’s debut pic became an art-house hit locally and a steady offshore seller for Sacis, with U.S. distribution picked up by Greycat Films.

Penta Film’s foreign sales exec, Gustavo Van Peteghen, echoes the importance of a nod from Venice’s international jury. “After Cannes, Venice’s awards are probably the most important festival recognition a film can get in terms of helping its sales potential,” he says.

“Our international sales of Ermanno Olmi’s ‘Legend of the Holy Drinker’ were given a real boost by its Golden Lion win a couple of years back.”

Penta is back this year with another Olmi movie, “Secret of the Old Wood,” screening out of competition, plus two pix in the Italian Panorama section — Giuseppe Piccioni’s “Diary of a Man Condemned to Marriage” and Leone Pompucci’s ’60s-set comedy “Mille Bolle Blu.”

“As a window on new Italian cinema,” says Van Peteghen, “Venice is enormously important. A positive reaction from critics there can completely change a film’s fate, especially a first movie like ‘Mille Bolle Blu.’ ”

Di Mambro is convinced that even a lukewarm response can sometimes work in a film’s favor. “The reaction some years back to Lina Wertmuller’s ‘On a Moonlit Night’ was less than enthusiastic,” he recalls. “But we sold that film very widely on the strength of the controversy it sparked.”

Intrafilm’s Corvino has less rosy memories of Venice. Her biggest money-spinner of the past year, Carlo Carlei’s adult fairy tale “Flight of the Innocent,” was pooh-poohed by Italo critics at a Venice screening and later nosedived locally. Only at Mifed did good word-of-mouth start to circulate, which led to U.S. release via MGM.

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