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Director send RAI a message

Italo helmers want say in new movie czar

ROME — Bernardo Bertolucci, Gabriele Muccino, Gianni Amelio, and Gabriele Salvatores are among 123 Italian helmers demanding to have their say in the appointment of RAI’s new movie czar via an open letter that speaks volumes about how dependent Italy’s film community is on the mammoth pubcaster.

“We feel the need to express our concern and preoccupation for the future of an entity that is so crucial for Italy’s cultural industry,” said the helmers in the missive published by Italian newspapers last week.

The helmers’ appeal followed the resignation of RAI Cinema general director Carlo Macchitella on Jan. 30, after it emerged he is under investigation in connection with a probe into allegedly fraudulent Hollywood content deals done by RAI’s main competitor, Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset TV empire.

According to Italian press reports, the RAI exec is believed to have received a E500,000 ($650,000) payment from the Swiss bank account of former Mediaset consultant Daniele Lorenzano, who brokered several deals under scrutiny by prosecutors between Mediaset and the U.S. majors.

Macchitella’s lawyer, who maintains his client’s innocence, says his dealings with Lorenzano were “private and legitimate.”

RAI Cinema prexy is Giancarlo Leone, who recently took on the role of RAI deputy director general and is believed to be about to relinquish his RAI Cinema hat.

Since it was set up in 2000, the pubcaster’s film unit has grown into a powerhouse. In 2006, its theatrical distribution arm conquered a 10% market share, ahead of Sony and Warner Bros.

RAI Cinema invests about $65 million a year in homegrown pics, which is about the same as Medusa, Mediaset’s sister film company. RAI Cinema, however, has a more auteurish slant. It recently financed works by Amelio, Marco Bellocchio, Emanuele Crialese, and the new Taviani brothers drama “La Masseria delle allodole” (The Lark Farm), which just unspooled at the Berlin Film Fest.

But not everybody in Italy’s film community is pleased that the two main broadcasters have such a key role in a getting pics produced.

“We should be fighting for Italian cinema to be more independent from both RAI and Mediaset,” producer-distributor Aurelio De Laurentiis tells Variety. He points out RAI should be buying TV rights to movies, instead of co-financing pics with taxpayer coin and forcing producers to give up rights.

De Laurentiis, who is the only industryite in Italy to operate outside the TV duopoly, has some strong evidence to back his claim. In the past three months, his Filmauro shingle has scored some $60 million at the local box office with two self-financed pictures, “Christmas in New York” ($34 million) and “Manual of Love 2” ($26 million, and still going strong).

Meanwhile, the country’s helmers are asking that Macchitella’s successor be someone with “unquestionable moral qualities” as well as a “proven passion for Italian cinema.”

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