ROME – Italy’s iconic Cinecittà Studios, where “Ben-Hur” and other classics were filmed, is returning to state ownership after nearly a decade in private hands, with a planned revamp involving the construction of two new soundstages on the studios’ backlot.
Italian state entity Istituto Luce-Cinecittà has reached an agreement to buy out the private consortium that was running the facility once known as “Hollywood on the Tiber.” Privatization of the sprawling studios on Rome’s outskirts was completed in 2008, after having begun a year earlier under the government of former conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The consortium, which includes producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, Italian Entertainment Group and fashion mogul Diego Della Valle, had taken a majority stake in the complex founded by Benito Mussolini in 1937. Hollywood swords-and-sandals epics such as “Ben-Hur” and “Quo Vadis” were shot there during Cinecittà’s heyday in the 1950s.
Financial details of the Cinecittà buy-back by the Istituto Cinecittà-Luce were not disclosed. However, the land had never been sold, which ultimately kept the government in control.
Headed by former producer Roberto Cicutto, Istituto Luce-Cinecittà is the state-run production, distribution and film archives entity that is now significantly expanding its purview.
“With the purchase of the business side of Cinecittà Studios, Istituto Luce- Cinecittà will take over management of the soundstages, including set design services, executive productions, and a number of other services that are essential to the production of movies, TV series and new media productions,” an Istituto Luce-Cinecittà statement said on Monday.
The statement underlined that at least two new state-of-the-art soundstages will be built, each more than 3,000 square meters (32,000 square feet), which will be “cousins” of the legendary Studio 5 where Federico Fellini worked.
The Cinecittà revamp plan is part of a broader government effort to boost Italy’s film and TV industries, a campaign that involves a comprehensive new film law to support production, distribution and exhibition. The law is now in final stages of approval and is expected to pump about 400 million euros ($454 million) in government investments and incentives into the industry. The incentives include already-available tax credits of up to 25% of a film or TV drama’s budget, with no per-project cap.
“The idea is for Cinecittà to become more competitive, now that Pinewood, with Brexit, will be less attractive to big European productions,” Francesco Rutelli, the head of Italy’s motion picture association, ANICA, and a former Italian culture minister, told Variety in a recent interview.
Italy’s film incentives have recently lured several Hollywood productions to Cinecittà, including MGM and Paramount’s “Ben Hur” remake, which shot in 2015 on the Cinecittà backlot for four months. More recently, the Sky-HBO TV series “The Young Pope” used Cinecittà’s soundstages to reconstruct Vatican interiors. But high-end productions shooting at Cinecittà are still too few and far between.
The Cinecittà-Luce statement noted that “strong marketing and communication towards Italian, European and overseas productions” will be at the center of Cinecittà’s strategy.