Cecchi Gori touts boffo B.O. revs

Homegrown pix prove big winners

ROME — Further consolidating its position as Italy’s market leader in film distribution and production, the Cecchi Gori Group has announced box office revenues for the current season ending this month of $165 million, with a hefty 64% of that total generated by homegrown titles.

The figures were announced Thursday at a press conference in Rome, during which Vittorio Cecchi Gori took stock of the past season and outlined his group’s distribution slate for the 1998-99 stint starting in September.

Boosting its hold on the national marketplace up from 27% last season, CGG’s releases now account for 29.3% of Italian moviegoing, leading nearest rival Fox by around 8 million admissions.

Homegrown films

CGG’s results continue the trend shown last season in which Italian films — the majority of them produced inhouse — were far more significant to the group’s performance than foreign acquisitions.

Led by the $43 million grosses of Leonardo Pieraccioni’s “Fireworks,” $38 million from Roberto Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” and $9.4 million earned by Paolo Virzi’s “Ovosodo,” CGG’s local productions accounted for a massive 70% of the national market for Italian pics.

Clearly crowing about the reception at Cannes and the worldwide Miramax pickup of prize-winner “Life is Beautiful,” which CGG financed through its distribution deal, Cecchi Gori hopes to follow the Benigni tragicomedy this season with other globally salable features.

Cowboy fable

First among these is Giovanni Veronesi’s allegorical cowboy fable, “My West,” which is budgeted at around $12 million and is now shooting with B.O. wunderkind Leonardo Pieraccioni alongside Harvey Keitel and David Bowie; and Enzo d’Alo’s animated ecofable, “Lucky and Zorba.” Both pics reportedly sparked considerable early interest at Cannes.

“The logic we follow is the same as that of the majors,” said Cecchi Gori. “Our films are made to be seen all over the world. Nationality doesn’t count; it’s the best films that win, and our film division has great intellectual and creative resources to make those films.”

Other projects

In addition to production and distribution activity, Cecchi Gori, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award at Cine Expo in Amsterdam this week, also announced further development of the group’s theater circuit. This includes the transformation, currently in progress, of two Rome hardtops into a 10-plex that will be the capital’s largest multi when completed late next year.

While reluctant to quantify total exhibition investment, Cecchi Gori said plans are under way to open screens in northern Italy, where the chain is poorly represented, and in the south, which remains Italy’s most underscreened area.