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Italian Shingle Asmara Sees Box Office Opportunity in Niche Films

Even as the nation’s economy struggles, friendships help int'l exec Ginevra Elkann establish arthouse rep

In Italy, where economic woes are shaking up the film industry, a new generation of players with a bigger global vision is surfacing, epitomized by Ginevra Elkann.

The granddaughter of Fiat chief Gianni Agnelli, Elkann is postwar Italian royalty. But despite her wealth, she is taking her time in the entertainment business, slowly building her Asmara Films shingle and Italian distrib Good Films on the back of international friendships, and with the kind of savvy and sophistication she learned as the part of a storied and wealthy family and at the London Film School.

For the moment, Asmara is doing smaller arthouse movies by young directors, but that’s not a permanent strategy, Elkann says. “It just happened like this because these directors are people of my generation, with whom I studied or whom I had met.”

She shepherded Swahili-language drama “White Shadow,” helmed by Berlinand L.A.-based Noaz Deshe, a longtime friend. It scooped the Venice Film Festival’s Lion of the Future award.

The idea for the grisly drama came about when Deshe went to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to teach film at the Goethe Institute, and learned that witch doctors in the country pay thousands of dollars for the limbs of local albinos — hacked off by gangs with machetes — because they are believed to have magic powers.

Deshe wanted to make a film about this sinister trade with his students, using a Canon 5D digital camera, so he gave Elkann a call.

“I thought it was a great story that had to be told about a reality that very few people know about,” Elkann, 34, says. “We got started very quickly.”

Ryan Gosling, who was acquainted with Deshe in L.A. and heard about the film, came onboard as an executive producer.

“Shadow,” which screened in Venice’s Critics’ Week, vied with more than 50 first features in all sections of the fest to win the Luigi De Laurentiis Lion of the Future, which carries a $100,000 prize.

Next up for Elkann’s Rome-based shingle, launched in 2010, is “Land,” about Lakota Sioux living on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, and their problems with alcohol, sold to them by their white neighbors off the reservation. “Land” will be directed by Iranian-born, London-bred helmer Babak Jalali, with whom Elkann attended film school. (Elkann produced Jalali’s first film, “Frontier Blues,” which screened at Locarno.) French fashion designer Agnes B’s Love Streams shingle is onboard as a co-producer for the pic, which has a tentative start date of April .

Asmara also is prepping “Cloro” (Chlorine) an Italian debut feature by NYU Film School graduate Lamberto Sanfelice, set in the world of synchronized swimming.

Her distribution activity via Good Films, in which she is a founding partner with Francesco Melzi d’Eril, Luigi Musini and Lorenzo Mieli, has also underlined her arthouse sensibilities. Its first release, in 2012, was Luc Besson’s “The Lady,” followed by Cannes Critics’ Week winner “Salvo,” by Italo duo Antonio Piazza and Fabio Grassadonia, among other titles. Good Films’ upcoming releases in Italy include Venice standout “Locke,” by Steven Knight, “Before Midnight,” “Don Jon” and “Dallas Buyers Club.”

“Unfortunately it’s not a good time for the box office in Italy, but it is a moment of opportunity,” she says. “That’s why we started our company. … we saw that this situation could open up space for something new.”

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