Cecchi Gori segues to toons with ‘Seagull’

ROME — Marking the feature-animation bow for Italy’s leading film producer the Cecchi Gori Group, production is under way on director Enzo d’Alo’s “The Story of a Seagull and the Cat That Taught Her to Fly.”

The project follows d’Alo’s 1996 feature “The Blue Arrow,” a critical and commercial hit that has spearheaded something of a renaissance in Italy’s long-moribund animation industry.

The first feature-length toon produced in the country since the days of Bruno Bozzetto’s classic “Allegro Non Troppo” almost 20 years earlier, “Blue Arrow” was picked up as a video release this year by Miramax Films for all English-language territories and Latin America, reportedly for a minimum guarantee of $1 million.

Adapted by d’Alo with playwright and screenwriter Umberto Marino from the children’s book by Chilean author Luis Sepulveda, “Seagull” is being produced by Vittorio and Rita Cecchi Gori and executive produced by Maria Fares of Turin-based animation boutique La Lanterna Magica, which also was behind “Blue Arrow.”

Love, nature, hope, solidarity and generosity

The eco-fable, which is set in Hamburg against the backdrop of the North Sea, deals in such themes as love of nature, hope, solidarity and selfless generosity.

“The starting point for the story is a very real one,” d’Alo said at a Thursday press conference. “The film centers on the kind of ecological disasters caused by ships and oil tankers, so its premise also has an educational value designed to make children reflect.”

Producers said the new feature, which is slated for a Christmas 1998 release domestically, will cost at least double the $3 million budget of “The Blue Arrow” and that offshore presales — possibly to Miramax — are currently being negotiated.

“Cecchi Gori is very interested in producing children’s films and very interested in animation,” Fares said. “We are already discussing future projects together.”

Unlike “Blue Arrow,” which was a co-production among Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg entailing four years of work by animators in several countries, “Seagull” will be made entirely in Italy with around 25% of the 200 technicians coming from overseas. For synch purposes, the original version will be in neutral-accented English, allowing offshore distribs to redub their own, more localized versions.

“The difficult part for the animators has been developing characters that don’t fall back on the Disney model,” said d’Alo, who is working with Valter Cavazzuti on the characters and Michel Fuzellier on the backgrounds.

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