Idiosyncratic Italian film and TV producer Pietro Valsecchi has long been churning out hits on his home turf. His 2013 comedy sensation “Sole a catinelle,” which riffed on local economic woes, is Italy’s all-time top grosser at almost $70 million, while his 2011 comedy “What a Beautiful Day” took in $59 million in its Italian run. But the prolific producer turned to more a serious subject when he debuted “Call Me Francesco,” a biopic about Pope Francis that premiered at the Vatican’s 6,300-seat Paul VI Hall ahead of its local theatrical release earlier this month.
Now the filmmaker, whose Taodue shingle is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s Mediaset/Medusa powerhouse, is setting his sights on the international arena. And he’s doing it his way.
Instead of seeking international partners for several high-profile English-language TV series — including art thriller skein “Michelangelo’s Secret,” contempo Mafia drama “Buscetta” and New York-set period crimer “Once Upon a Time: The Mafia” — he says he’s simply going to fully finance them himself.
“I pitched some of my projects to American broadcasters in the past, but if you don’t have a name director like (Paolo) Sorrentino, you go nowhere,” Valsecchi says. “I have a name in Italy — I produced the most successful (Italian) films and TV series of all time; but not in the U.S. So I said to myself: ‘Let’s show them the finished product instead. When I do, I’m sure they will like what they see.’ ”
For “Michelangelo,” centered around a secret artwork that’s a potential powder keg to the Vatican, and is being tracked down by a female Brit art historian, Valsecchi has recruited “New Tricks” scribes Julian Simpson and Matthew Thomas. The four-part “Buscetta,” about the first Sicilian Mafia boss who turned informant, is penned by multihyphenate Claudio Fava, whose journalist father was killed by Cosa Nostra.
Valsecchi is proud that “Call Me Francesco” got the thumbs up from the Pope’s close collaborator, Guillermo Karcher, after he saw the completed film. “That, and getting to open it at the Vatican, have been my biggest accomplishments,” he boasts. The pic, shot in both theatrical and TV versions, is helmed by Daniele Luchetti, the Italo auteur whose “My Brother Is an Only Child” and “Our Life” competed in Cannes.
While praising Luchetti, Valsecchi notes that he doesn’t usually like working with auteur filmmakers. “I make the kind of cinema that people can feel — emotions are everything in my films — and very few Italian auteurs can do this.”
There are other aspects of the filmmaking process that Valsecchi likes to keep close to home as well, even on a project like “Call Me Francesco.” In line with his do-it-yourself philosophy, Taodue is handling world sales.