Defection at RAI

Bertolucci moves 'Siege' to Mediaset

ROME — Representing another humiliating blow to RAI in a season of dismal ratings and top-level management upsets, the Italo pubcaster’s bureaucratic holdups have prompted the departure of one of the most prestigious projects on its current slate.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci, who began shooting “The Siege” on Monday in Rome, has responded to RAI’s indecision regarding broadcasting rights to the telefilm by taking it to the pubcaster’s commercial competitor, Mediaset.

The decision was reached Friday following a call from the office of RAI’s recently appointed director general Pier Luigi Celli notifying Bertolucci’s agent that the contract had been suspended.

A ‘disturbing decision’

“An inexplicable and disturbing decision, as well as a deeply offensive one for the manner in which it was made,” Bertolucci commented.With cast and crew ready to roll only three days later, Bertolucci’s representatives contacted Mediaset head of television production Riccardo Tozzi, who came back with a greenlight response just hours later.

Based on a short story by British author James Lasdun and scripted by Bertolucci and Clare Peploe, “The Siege” is a romantic drama about a pianist in love with his African housekeeper. The English-language production stars David Thewlis and Thandie Newton and is being produced by Bertolucci’s Rome-based Fiction company.

The terms of the $1.8 million contract are identical to those drawn up at RAI, giving Mediaset broadcasting rights in Italy and several other territories. The pic’s budget is $2.6 million.

An inherited project

The project originally was put in motion by former RAI president Enzo Siciliano and Sergio Silva, who heads the pubcaster’s Cinemafiction production division. But when Siciliano and most of his board ankled their posts earlier this year, new execs were ushered in, resulting in delays, while budgets and financing terms were reviewed.

Commenting this weekend on the Bertolucci production glitch, Roberto Zaccaria, who replaced Siciliano as RAI president, called the suspension a technical matter caused by Celli’s recent arrival in the position.

Several other key RAI projects either shooting or at an advanced stage of pre-production now appear stuck in the bureaucratic limbo of funding uncertainty while the new management team finds its feet.

These include Marco Bellocchio’s feature “The Nanny” and Giacomo Campiotti’s “A Time to Love,” a co-production involving several European countries, in which RAI’s stake reportedly is the only outstanding element not yet firmed.

APT, the national association of independent television producers, has called a meeting today to protest RAI’s inefficiency in making good on its funding commitments. The organization charges that despite the pubcaster’s claim of a shift in focus in recent years from acquisitions to production, local producers continue to get a raw deal. “Bertolucci’s is the most clamorous case,” APT president Adriano Arie said. “But there are many other filmmakers and producers living with the anxiety of projects that are put at risk by exasperating delays. The biggest anxiety is for those producers who start shooting anyway, without the certainty that their contracts will be honored.”

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