ROME – Rome’s former mayor Walter Veltroni, a reknown film buff who launched the Rome Film Festival, is making his directorial debut with a feature-length docu about late Italo pol Enrico Berlinguer, who headed Western Europe’s largest Communist party, set to screen on Italian movie theatres in March before airing on Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Italia paybox, which fully financed the high-profile pic.

“It’s a rather unusual project for an American pay-TV operation,” says Sky Italia exec vice president Andrea Scrosati. Sky Italia is a unit of 21st Century Fox.

But in terms of potential local audience it makes sense. Berlinguer, who died in 1984, remains a beloved figure in Italy. Sky Italia will air the docu, titled “Quando c’era Berlinguer” (“When Berlinguer Was With Us”), in June on the 30th anniversary of Berlinguer’s passing.

Berlinguer is known for starting a movement among Western European Communists toward greater independence from Moscow.

Veltroni, who held high-ranking positions in Italy’s Communist party before serving as secretary of Italy’s more moderate center-left Democratic Party – between 2007 and 2009 – certainly has extensive knowledge of the subject matter, access to plenty of material, and the right sensitivity.

“He worked in the same office, from the same desk,” Scrosati notes.

Veltroni said he was inspired to make the pic after being invited to present a docu about Swedish Social Democratic statesman Olof Palme. “I thought it was strange that a similar work did not exist about Berlinguer and about our history,” Veltroni said in an interview on Wednesday (Feb. 12) with leftist daily L’Unità.

The docu, packed with archive material and interviews, will include a remembrance of Berlinguer by Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union. Locations will include the Moscow auditorium where Berlinguer basically broke with Moscow. It will also tell of a purported attempt by the KGB to kill Berlinguer in 1973 while he was in Sofia, Bulgaria.

A graduate of Rome’s Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia film school before entering politics, Veltroni is also a former editor of L’Unità and a prolific author. Over the years he has cultivated a rapport with Tom Cruise and other Hollywood stars. (Veltroni is pictured above with Robert Redford and Cruise at the 2007 Rome fest “Lions for Lambs” gala.)

Several of his novels have been adapted into movies, most recently terrorism themed time-travel drama “Discovery at Dawn,” helmed by Susanna Nicchiarelli, which screened at the Rome fest in 2012.

The Sky-financed docu, produced by Carlo Degli Esposti’s prominent Palomar shingle (“Montalbano), will be released theatrically by BIM Distribuzione on March 27, after a gala preem to be attended by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano, who also appears in the docu.