PFE Italy moves on

Latest Euro distrib arm readies pic lineup

ROME — Despite the uncertainty facing Polygram Filmed Entertainment as its management continues to seek a buyout of the company, the upcoming launch in Italy of PFE’s latest European distribution arm is steaming ahead as planned.

PFE’s managing director in Italy, Filippo Roviglioni, declined to comment on what a change of ownership might mean to the fledgling outfit. But he confirmed to Daily Variety that the new division has assembled its first slate of pics to be released nationally when the 1998-99 B.O. season kicks off in September.

Italy is one of the last strategic territories to complete PFE’s web of European distribution coverage.

The Italian arm’s first official industry unveiling will be at the annual exhibitors tradeshow in Florence later this month. This will be followed by the Venice Film Festival, where PFE’s debut Italian release, Shekhar Kapur’s “Elizabeth,” is expected to bow prior to opening nationally late September.

Also a strong contender for a Venice preem before its fall release is Neil LaBute’s “Your Friends and Neighbors,” starring Jason Patric, Ben Stiller and Nastassja Kinski, and possibly, Vincent Ward’s “What Dreams May Come,” with Robin Williams, Cuba Gooding Jr. and Annabella Sciorra.

Venice fest topper Felice Laudadio also is believed to be eager to include Stephen Frears’ 1950s-set cowboy tale, “The Hi-Lo Country,” in the lineup, but Roviglioni says the pic may not be completed in time. The Working Title production, which stars Woody Harrelson, Billy Crudup and Patricia Arquette, is slated for Italo release through PFE early next year.

PFE’s fall-through-Christmas lineup in Italy includes Joseph Ruben’s “Return to Paradise,” with Vince Vaughn, Anne Heche and Joachin Phoenix, Michael Winterbottom’s “I Want You” and Kelly Makin’s Mafia comedy “Mickey Blue Eyes,” with Hugh Grant, Jeanne Tripplehorn and James Caan.

Early 1999 releases include “The Borrowers” with John Goodman, “Plunkett and Macleane,” starring Robert Carlyle, Jonny Lee Miller and Liv Tyler, and “Notting Hill,” with Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant and Alec Baldwin.

PFE’s Italian arm has set up its own marketing and press departments, headed by marketing director Massimo Proietti, to promote its lineup. But the new company’s releases for the first year will go out via Warners. The distribution pact was firmed following Warners’ successful handling of last fall’s Italian release of “Bean,” which became the current season’s fifth-highest grosser.

Roviglioni says the handshake also was influenced by the two companies’ existing collaboration on four projects being co-financed by PFE and Time Warner-owned Castle Rock. These include “Mickey Blue Eyes” and the Tom Hanks starrer “The Green Mile.”

Other key titles on PFE’s Italian slate for the 1999-2000 season are Alan Parker’s film of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Angela’s Ashes,” Peter Hewitt’s update of British TV cult favorite “Thunderbirds” and the Jodie Foster-produced “Waking the Dead,” with Crudup and Jennifer Connelly.