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Head of Italian Distributors’ Group Resigns Over Venice-Netflix Release Spat

Andrea Occhipinti, the head of Italy’s national distributors’ association, has resigned in the wake of a controversy prompted by the simultaneous theatrical and Netflix release last week of police-brutality drama “On My Skin,” following its Venice Film Festival premiere.

Occhipinti, chief of Rome-based production-distribution company Lucky Red, decided to step down as president of the distributors’ unit within Italy’s motion picture organization, ANICA, because “On My Skin’s” release had “created plenty of tensions among exhibitors who programmed the movie (few) and those who chose not to (many),” he said in a statement.

“The film’s success [in movie theaters] increased these tensions,” added Occhipinti, who was one of the film’s producers.

Occhipinti had come under criticism from local exhibitors for participating in the simultaneous release of “On My Skin” in a handful of Italian theaters and on Netflix. Occhipinti called the strategy “a big opportunity,” but many distributors and exhibitors questioned the benefits of the move and criticized the Venice fest for peppering its competition lineup with several Netflix titles that might not receive theatrical releases or might be released day-and-date online.

“On My Skin,” which went out on about 80 Italian screens starting last Wednesday, scored the frame’s second-highest per-screen average (€2,383, or $2,700) and came in at No. 9 overall with €244,479 ($286,000), a result that local box office analyst Robert Bernocchi called “amazing.”

Unlike in France, which has strict windowing regulations regarding the lag between a film’s theatrical release and its distribution in other forms, the rules in Italy are not cast in stone. But there has historically been a gentlemen’s agreement stipulating a four-month minimum.

The 36-month interval between a movie’s release in cinemas and when it can play on streamers in France has caused controversy, and is the reason Netflix opted out from the Cannes Film Festival this year.

Occhipinti said in his resignation statement that, “despite there being precedents” of simultaneous releases in Italy and “an international debate” on this hot-button issue, he did not want Lucky Red’s decision regarding “On My Skin” to be considered the collective position of Italy’s distributors, and was therefore stepping down to avoid embarrassment with his colleagues.

He added that he considered what happened with “On My Skin” a one-off that does not mark the beginning of new models of distribution and vowed that Lucky Red would respect windows going forward.

“The central role played by movie theaters [in the distribution cycle] never came under discussion,” he said.

On Monday, the International Union of Cinemas, which represents exhibitors in 37 European territories, covering more than 40,500 screens across the region, issued a statement in support of Italy’s exhibitors against simultaneous releases and also against the Venice Film Festival for including Netflix films, such as Alfonso Cuaron’s Golden Lion winner “Roma,” in its competition lineup. The statement urged “festival competitions” to “only consider for inclusion those films intended for theatrical release,” it said.

In Venice, Cuaron and producer David Linde said “Roma” would be going out theatrically around the world. But specific plans for Italy have not been announced.

ANICA, the Italian motion picture organization, said in response to Occhipinti’s resignation that decisions regarding windows in Italy are necessary “as part of a fruitful dialogue” and indicated that new regulations are on the way.

“Faced with gigantic global changes…it’s not a matter of creating barriers, but of contributing to guiding the transformation” of the film business “in its rapport with theater owners, broadcasters, and platforms,” the ANICA statement said.

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