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Italy’s Distribution Chief: New Windowing Law Is ‘Not Against’ Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

Netflix has become a big disruptor in Italy since launching half a dozen movies at the Venice Film Festival in September. Among the Netflix six were awards hopeful “Roma,” which won the Golden Lion, and local police-brutality drama “On My Skin,” which after the fest was released simultaneously online by Netflix and in 80 Italian theaters via distributor Lucky Red.

That day-and-date release outraged other Italian distributors, causing Lucky Red boss Andrea Occhipinti to resign as head of the national distributors’ association in September. His successor, Luigi Lonigro, chief of RAI Cinema’s 01 Distribution unit, worked with other industry representatives to draft new rules on release windows, which were unveiled this week. Italy will now enshrine into law the informal 105-day window between a film’s first theatrical screening and its availability on other platforms. Limited-release and under-performing titles can have even shorter lag periods – as little as 10 days. The law will apply to Italian films only, and not to foreign product.

However, in an exclusive interview with Variety, Lonigro warned that if Netflix tries to release “Roma” in Italy, it might face pushback from local industry players. He also underlined that the new rules were developed to boost Italian cinema, not to penalize the streaming giant. (Comments have been edited for concision and clarity.)

What changes with the new rules?

What changes for the Italian market is that a certain type of Italian product will be able to have greater visibility, after its theatrical release, by having at its disposal a very, very advantageous window – in one case 10 days, so practically simultaneous, and in other cases two months, rather than the classic 105-day window. It’s an important, modern, forward-looking move.

Will the decree affect the release of “Roma,” which Netflix, in the film’s Italian trailer, has announced will soon be playing in Italian theaters?

“Roma” is not an Italian movie. So if they want to play in Italian cinemas, they will have to respect that classic 105-day window if they want to be in Italian cinemas in a regular way. If instead they want to have a non-widespread, anomalous distribution, like they did with “On My Skin,” then that is their personal choice and exhibitors will react accordingly.

You recently said that if Netflix wants to release “Roma” in Italy, they would have to buy some Italian movie theaters.

Yes, or rent them. But I want to underline that this is a law decree in favor of Italian cinema. It’s not against anyone. ”Roma” has nothing to do with this law decree. There is a 105-day window in place for international product that is not enshrined in law, as the one for national product now is. If the film’s distributor wants to violate that window, they will have to deal with the market, and they may not find anyone willing to let them do it.

How important was “On My Skin” in promoting the law decree?

The industry had actually been mulling a differentiation of windows depending on the type of product for a long time. But certainly what happened with “On My Skin” gave this a strong acceleration. I have to say that what happened had a very strong positive impact because for the first time distributors, producers and exhibitors have spoken out with one voice, which is the voice of the [Italian] industry.

Doesn’t the fact that a gentleman’s agreement remains in place for non-Italian movies give international product greater margin to break it?

The only one to break the rules in the past 20 years has been an Italian movie, “On My Skin.” American movies, especially the ones from the major studios, have respected the gentleman’s agreement to a T. Therefore I will go even further and say that, at the end of the day, the real custodians of this agreement are the major studios, which are respecting with great rigor and attention an agreement based on a handshake with exhibitors. When it comes to international product, if things will change, they will change outside Italy. They will change in some guiding territories, and then we will also have to rethink things. But I am very calm on this front. As long as the major studios hold firm to the window, the whole market will hold firm.

But there is some uncertainty on this score on Netflix’s part.

I am not worried about a company that is not incorporated in Italy, doesn’t have one single Italian employee and doesn’t have a [theatrical] distribution unit. I cannot think that two or three movies a year – which, by the way, don’t make huge amounts – are something to worry about. They are not a [theatrical] distributor. The don’t have agreements with Italian distributors at the moment. Why should we see this as a problem? We have an industry that works 365 days a year with a ton of product. Why should we be affected by a company that we fully respect, but which does a different job?

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