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Blaze guts Fellini sound stage

Police probe Cinecitta fire

ROME — Flames ripped through Rome’s Cinecitta Studios’ historic Studio 5 overnight Thursday, damaging the inside of the soundstage long associated with Federico Fellini and prompting speculation of arson.

The blaze, which destroyed stage scenery and electrical wires but left the building intact, was quashed by firefighters after roughly four hours. It broke out shortly before a planned meeting on Thursday at Rome’s city hall between Cinecitta prexy Luigi Abete and union reps and workers who are up in arms over a planned revamp of the studios.

Cinecitta downplayed the damage, calling it minor. It did not comment on the fire’s causes, which “will be ascertained by experts and authorities,” it said in a statement.

Police are reportedly investigating the possibility of a link between the flames and protests that in past days have seen workers occupy the backlot and pitch tents on the studio grounds, fly union flags on the roofs and unfurl a large banner over the entrance that reads “Cinecitta Okkupata.”

Looking to lure more international shoots 15 years after being partly privatized, Cinecitta is trying to forge ahead with a $200 million makeover that includes a hotel and wellness center, industry office space, a new 13,000-sq.ft. sound stage the same size as Studio 5 and state-of-the art services from a pool of new companies, including Hollywood-based Deluxe Entertainment Services.

Though Abete has assured that nobody at Cinecitta will be fired, there are plans to redeploy employees to different jobs, including reportedly working on a $500 million Cinecitta theme park.

While Italy recently introduced a 25% tax break, capped at $7 million, the generous production incentive so far has failed to increase the number of international shoots at Cinecitta.

The last big foreign production to use the studios was HBO’s “Rome,” which shut in 2006 after two seasons. Part of the lavish “Rome” set was destroyed by fire in 2007.

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