Miramax pulls strings for ‘Pinocchio’

Benigni pic set to begin in Italy next month

Miramax Films has acquired worldwide distribution rights (outside Italy) to “Pinocchio,” which will be directed by and star Oscar-winning actor and filmmaker Roberto Benigni.

Miramax Intl. is selling the film at Cannes.

Benigni penned the screenplay with his longtime writing partner, Vincenzo Cerami. Pic reunites Benigni with his “Life Is Beautiful” co-star (and wife), Nicoletta Braschi. Production is set to begin in Italy next month, with shooting to take place in the same converted-factory warehouses in Terni, where Benigni shot “Beautiful.”

Pic, an adaptation of Carlo Collodi’s classic Italian fairy tale, will be produced by Elda Ferri and Gianluigi Braschi for Melampo Cinematografica, with Mario Cotone executive producing.

“Pinocchio” will be distributed in Italy by the Cecchi Gori Group.

“We’re thrilled to be reuniting with the remarkable team of Roberto and Nicoletta,” said Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein. “Roberto’s whimsical yet poignant comedic style makes him the perfect artist to bring this magical Italian fairytale to life.”

Added Rick Sands, Miramax’s chairman of worldwide distribution, “This story will engage audiences from ages 7 to 77 and we are both privileged and excited by the prospect of bringing ‘Pinocchio’ to virtually every corner of the world.”

States Benigni, “There is nothing more beautiful in the world, enough to lose one’s head. A sunset with a long nose, a starry sky that lies, a river searching for its father, a beautiful blue forest.

“It makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it’s very mean, generous, magical, universal, a picture of freedom, of unrestrained desire to live, of pain and joy; a joy so powerful and sweet that it restores the souls in every spot on earth. ‘Pinocchio’: nothing more beautiful in the world.”

Miramax and Benigni are succeeding on ground where others have faltered. Francis Ford Coppola tried for years to make a version of the classic tale, only to end up in suits with Warner Bros. The material has been filmed before, most notably in Disney’s 1940 animated version. There was also a live-action version in 1996.

Weinstein, Sands, Stuart Ford, senior VP of acquisitions and international operations, and Fabrizio Lombardo, director of Miramax Italy, negotiated the deal on behalf of Miramax.

Attorney Bruno Della Ragione, based in Italy, and Ira Schreck and Joe Dapello, of Gotham-based Schreck Rose & Dapello, negotiated on behalf of Benigni and Braschi’s company, Melampo Cinematografica.

Benigni’s “Life is Beautiful” won three Oscars in 1999 for foreign language film, dramatic score and actor (for Benigni).