Leading Italo production shingle Cattleya is thinking bigger one year after U’s Focus Features Intl. took a 20% stake. The Rome-based shingle is now looking to expand its reach into the international arena, while also striving for a bigger chunk of the crucial local market.

U’s international production unit, headed by Christian Grass, became a Cattleya partner in January 2009 — marking the first time a U.S. studio invested directly in local production in Italy and prompting Cattleya to take a bolder outlook.

“We want to strengthen our international side, which doesn’t just mean movies in English, but projects that have more potential to travel internationally,” says Cattleya prexy Riccardo Tozzi.

Reflecting this new direction, Cattleya’s slate includes a first foray into English-language filmmaking for Gabriele Salvatores (“I’m Not Scared”), as well a new ambitious Sicily-set drama by Emanuele Crialese (“Respiro”), and new works by Marco Tullio Giordana (“Best of Youth”) and Cristina Comencini. Comencini (“Don’t Tell”) is likely to make the transition to English – language moviemaking with her next pic.

Concurrently, Cattleya has several new projects focused more toward Italian auds. These include a remake of sexy Spanish musical laffer “The Wrong Side of the Bed,” to be penned by Italian cinema wunderkind Fausto Brizzi. “Wrong Side” will be Italy’s first musical movie in ages, and Cattleya also has several titles geared toward the local teen aud, which Tozzi, who is also prexy of Italy’s film producers, considers the “key demographic we need to lure to make this market grow.”

n First off in the Cattleya pipeline, skedded for a May shoot date, is Crialese’s “Terra Ferma,” a “symbolic, visionary drama” set on a Siclian isle caught in “a conflict between tourism and immigration” and seen through the prism of the “anthropological mutation” caused by the global immigration phenom in Sicilian islanders. “Terra Ferma,” for which Sicilian star Donatella Finocchiaro is attached, is being developed as a co-production with France and will be distributed by RAI Cinema in Italy with U in talks for international rights.

n Salvatores is set to start shooting in September on “Siberian Education” a violent English-language coming-of-ager about a boy learning the honor code of the Mafia-like Siberian Urkas, a criminal community deported by Stalin to what is now the border of Moldavia. Pic is based on a book by Italy-based scribe and tattoo artist Nicolai Lilin, now translated into English after becoming a bestseller in Italy. Universal is onboard for all territories.

n Also skedded for a fall shoot is Tullio Giordana’s previously announced terrrorism-themed “Piazza Fontana,” about Italy’s most infamous act of postwar political terrorism. RAI Cinema will distribute this potentially hot-button drama in Italy with Universal a possible international distributor.

n Comencini, whose incest psychodrama “Don’t Tell” was nommed for a foreign Oscar in 2006, will shoot a tale of dark desire set in the Dolomites and based on her novel “Quando La Notte” (When the Night) which Cattleya is developing as an English-lingo feature. Universal is in talks to board.

n Hot Italo TV helmer Stefano Sollima (“Romanzo Criminale”) will helm “ACAB — All Cops Are Bastards” based on an Italo tome delving into the depths of police brutality in Italy and, by extension, the world.

But despite his international ambitions, Tozzi is quick to point out that the cornerstone of Cattleya’s flexible rapport with Universal is based on “producing movies that first and foremost can work well locally and strengthen Universal as a local distributor.”

“On the one hand, Universal is interested in distributing a certain number of our movies. On the other hand, they want Cattleya to flourish even with the movies they don’t take, because they still have a share in the profits,” he adds.

An aspect of being part of the U universe that Tozzi is growing fond of is the fact that “they give us constant updates on what is being produced all over Europe which gives us plenty of new input and the chance to think about possible remakes,” he says.

Projects in the Cattleya pipeline that are more specifically geared toward the home crowd include:

n “Cosimo e Nicole” a romancer/road movie set between Italy, France and Belgium to be helmed by Francesco Amato (“Ma Che Ci Faccio Qui!”). Local heartthrob Riccardo Scamarcio (“Eden is West”) is in talks to play the male lead. The pic, which RAI Cinema will release in Italy, is being developed as a three-way co-production with France and Belgium.

Upcoming Cattleya releases comprise high-school-set “Una Canzone Per Te,” by first-timer Herbert Simone Paragnani, out via Universal in May, and auteur Daniele Luchetti’s timely “Una Vita,” about a working-class man, played by Elio Germano (My Brother Is an Only Child) whose wife dies leaving him three kids to support, also out in May, via RAI Cinema.