With Italian pics humming ever more steadily at the home box office, it’s a no-brainer for Eagle to be going into local production.

But the first Italo pic Eagle CEO Mark Lombardo boarded, a little gem titled “Basilicata Coast to Coast,” was far from an obvious choice.

This road movie about a provincial pop band, which, pulling a stunt of sorts, makes its way on foot across Southern Italy’s tiny but terrific Basilicata region, is a first work by character actor Rocco Papaleo, and clearly repped a gamble.

But Lombardo, whose extensive pre-Eagle background is in production, working with Tarak Ben Ammar, saw the potential in the script.

“The first year I came on board (2007) I must have received 100 scripts, but ‘Basilicata’ stood out,” he says.

So he teamed up with producers Isabella Cocuzza and Arturo Paglia and their, quite new but increasingly important, Paco Cinematografica shingle.

What followed may not quite qualify as history, but it certainly has the makings of a type of success story, very rare in Italy, in which a movie comes out of nowhere and becomes both a commercial and critical hit.

“Basilicata” opened on a mere 30 screens and expanded to 130 within a week; it then stayed in Italo cinemas for about 20 weeks, pulling $4.2 million and landing eight nominations at Italy’s David Awards.

Next Italo title on Eagle’s slate is “Mozzarella Stories,” a dark comedy centered on a local family-run mozzarella factory that sees itself threatened by the arrival of ambitious Chinese cheese-makers.

Helmed once again by a first-timer, Edoardo De Angelis, “Mozzarella” is being co-produced by Eagle with Bavaria Film, has Emir Kusturica as an executive producer, and Aida Turturro (The Sopranos) in the cast.

“It’s interesting because you have a company (Eagle) where the president is a Tunisian, the CEO is an American and Bavaria is German. And we’re making this picture shot in Caserta where they speak Neapolitan dialect,” says Lombardo. That’s the spirit.

Variety Vangaurd: Eagle Pictures:
An Italo indie takes flight | Buyer shows B.O. instincts | Road movie pops for production arm