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Lucisano duo cater to Italian teens

Pair show local films can be hits

ROME — Fulvio Lucisano likes to joke that throughout his entire career Italian cinema has “always been in a crisis.”

But after a bit of a dry spell, in 2006 he and his daughter Federica Lucisano struck gold with “Night Before Exams,” a project others had passed on, which has since become emblematic of Italy’s cinematic upswing.

“We read the treatment, and we liked it; but then every director we approached said ‘No,’ ” recounted Federica, who shepherded “Night Before Exams,” a cross-generational tale set in the 1980s that mixes educational and romantic mishaps. It pulled a whopping $17 million via RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribuzione despite no stars and a first-time helmer. Gallic remake is set for a July release.

The helmer who said “yes” was “Exams” scribe Fausto Brizzi, who had cut his teeth scripting lucrative Christmas comedies but had no previous behind-the-camera experience. Brizzi is now Italian cinema’s wunderkind, “Exams” being the most successful Italian film by a local first-time helmer ever. Meanwhile, its young star Nicolas Vaporidis has become a national heartthrob.

“There was a huge disaffaction with Italian movies, and that is changing, in large part, because we learned to cater to the teen audience which used to just go see Hollywood movies,” Federica said.

She recounted that as part of the marketing campaign for “Exams,” Italian Intl. Film (IIF) spent 20% of its P&A on free screenings, which really got word of mouth going.

To be sure, 2007 was a banner year for Italian cinema, with a 44% year-on-year increase in moviegoers flocking to local pics, which drove admissions up 12% to 103 million. Among the year’s top titles was IIF’s sequel “Night Before Exams — Today,” helmed by Brizzi and toplining Vaporidis, of course, which pulled $19 million.

Earlier this year, another Vaporidis starrer produced by IIF, “Questa notte e ancora nostra,” (This Night Is Still Ours), about a young Roman undertaker who wants to launch a pop band, opened strong and then petered out quite quickly, though it still made a tidy profit via Buena Vista Intl.

Brizzi’s next movie will be titled “Ex,” for release on Valentine’s Day. Similar in structure to “Love, Actually,” pic will be a sentimental comedy mixing tales of ended love affairs across different age groups.

With Federica taking the pulse of what she called “the Italian landscape” under her father’s guidance, IIF is becoming a mini-studio developing new talents who can speak to the Italian market.

“We are focusing on either genre movies or romantic comedies,” Federica said.

IIF’s renewed foray into genre pics started last year with violent noir “Cemento armato” (Armored Cement), helmed by Brizzi’s co-scribe Marco Martani — they both penned the screenplay. “Cement,” which harked back to gritty 1970s Hollywood actioners, didn’t do stellar biz at the local box office but is selling well internationally.

On the distribution side, both Lucisanos said they refuse to pick up titles just to beef up a slate. With 90% of product in Italy being handled by the majors, and the rest by bigger Italo players like Medusa and RAI Cinema, all that’s left are the crumbs, they lamented. So their releases have been limited to a couple a year, most recently “John Rambo,” co-distributed with Buena Vista.

Federica has recently been mulling a flotation for IIF, as a means “to create a real independant mini-major.”

“The idea is to forge alliances, gain an important library, and achieve critical mass,” she said, though her father is more inclined to hold off and keep it all in the family.

“One thing I’ll say is we’re in no rush, especially given the state on the stock market,” Federica said.

Meanwhile, IIF forges ahead at its own pace, expertly navigating Italo showbiz’s treacherous waters.

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