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Local Investment, Kudos Boost Italian Cinema’s Profile

This year looks like a turning point for Italian cinema, which is getting a hefty injection of new types of funding just as fresh narratives flourish and pics get more international traction.

The four Oscar nominations scored by Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me by Your Name” came just as movie admissions were picking up after a dramatic 12% box office drop in 2017, and as eagerly awaited film legislation went into effect that is pumping at least €400 million ($490 million) annually into all Italian film industry sectors, from development to distribution.

Italy’s substantial Berlinale presence, comprising Laura Bispuri’s “Sworn Virgin” in competition and two titles in Panorama — Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo’s “Boys Cry,” and Iran-born Babak Jalali’s “Land” — is another positive sign, especially since these directors are all young.

Venice Film Festival director Alberto Barbera calls the D’Innocenzo brothers, who are 29, first-timers with strong personalities. Though in the past Barbera has lamented stagnation and a scarcity of Italian directors with international chops, he’s now upbeat, citing Venice standout “Nico, 1988” by Susanna Nicchiarelli, about the Velvet Underground chanteuse, as one of several signals of a burst of cinematic vitality prompted by a different mindset.

“Young producers have understood that they need to play the international field,” says Barbera, noting that the number of Italian co-productions with European partners is rising and with them “the capability for Italian cinema to broaden its horizons.”

In terms of exports, Italian movies are circulating more widely than before, and there are finally some new sales companies in the country after a long spell during which French outfits had taken over handling most of Italy’s output.

Catia Rossi, who heads True Colours, says while there is still an interest in high-brow Italian cinema, her top sellers are “smart local comedies with a strong concept and other new genres.”

Rossi cites high-concept dramedy “Perfect Strangers,” which she has sold to more than 30 territories, as the perfect example of a new type of Italian genre movies that really click.

Besides sales of the original, “Strangers” — set during a dinner party in which friends play a game making their text messages public — has also spawned hit remakes in Greece and Spain, and there is another one coming up in France.

New titles on True Colours’ EFM slate include smart social comedy “Like a Cat on a Highway,” which became Italy’s top domestic draw during Christmas, pulling more than $11 million via new Italian theatrical distributor Vision Distribution, which was launched by paybox Sky in tandem with five local production companies.

“It’s become tougher to get Italians to go to the movies, but it’s not impossible,” says Vision Distribution chief Nicola Maccanico. He points out the importance of quality local mainstream titles with original storylines and higher production values. Though Vision mainly handles Italian product, Maccanico will be in Berlin as a buyer and as Italian distributor of Keira Knightley starrer “Colette.”

Another new Italian player at EFM is sales company Summerside Intl. Launched recently by Francesca Manno and Nicola Tassoni, it handles a mix of international and Italian specialty titles and is also branching out into Italian niche distribution.

The Italian government’s effort to boost the country’s content production industry is wide-ranging. In late January, culture minister Dario Franceschini announced an overhaul of Rome’s Cinecitta Studios that entails two new soundstages and a video-game production hub on the backlot that Federico Fellini once called home. A Netflix-produced untitled pope movie directed by Fernando Meirelles (“City of God”) is shooting there, lured by Italy’s generous 30% tax break for foreign film shoots.

At a press conference on the lot, Nicola Borrelli, head of the Italian culture ministry’s film department, called the Cinecitta relaunch part of “revolutionary” film legislation “that the Italian [film and TV] industry had been awaiting for 50 years.”

But, though many in the Italian industry favor the new legislation, not everyone is cheering.

Hit-making producer Pietro Valsecchi (“Quo Vado”), whose Taodue shingle is owned by Mediaset, is livid that the Italian law favors indie producers who will get a 30% tax credit, whereas his company will only be eligible for a 15% tax credit because it’s tied to a broadcaster. Valsecchi calls this differentiation “absurd and punishing.” He and other Italian executives with TV ties also feel straightjacketed by new quotas forcing broadcasters to air more European scripted content and at least one Italian movie or TV series a week in prime time on each station. As a reaction, Valsecchi is opening a production company in France.

The head of Italy’s producers’ association, Indigo Films partner Francesca Cima, is instead staunchly defending the TV content quotas as necessary to prompt Italian broadcasters to do more European co-productions.

“We have all the tools we need,” Cima says on the law. “Now it’s up to us.”

Loro

Director: Paolo Sorrentino

Producer: Indigo Films

About: Berlusconi biopic with Bunga Bunga brio

Sales company: Pathe

Boys Cry 

Director: Damiano D’Innocenzo, Fabio D’Innocenzo

Producers: Agostino, Giuseppe and Maria Grazia Sacca

About: Two best friends in the suburbs of Rome get mixed up in the underworld.

Sales: The Match Factory

Dogman

Director: Matteo Garrone

Producers: Rai Cinema, Le Pacte, Archimede Films

About: Urban Western in Roman gangland/inspired by homicide committed by coked-out dog groomer

Sales company: Rai Com, most territories. HanWay, France, U.K.

Freaks Out

Director: Gabriele Mainetti

Producers: Lucky Red, Goon Films, Rai Cinema, Belgian Gap Finders

About: Rome-set gender blender by the director of “They Call Me Jeeg.” 

Sales company: True Colours/Rai Com

Daughter of Mine 

Director: Laura Bispuri

Producers: Vivo Film, Colorado Film, Rai Cinema, The Match Factory

About: A 10-year old Sardinian girl is torn between biological and adoptive mothers

Sales company: The Match Factory

Land 

Director: Babak Jalali

Producers: Asmara Films, The Cup of Tea, Topkapi, Piano, To Be Continued

About: The story of two Native American brothers dealing with the death of their soldier sibling and life on a reservation.

Sales: Bac

Nome di Donna

Director: Marco Tullio Giordana

Producer: Lionello Cerri

About: Sexual harassment drama in Catholic church milieu

Sales company: Celluloid Dreams

Notturno

Director: Gianfranco Rosi

Producers: 21 Uno Film, Stemal Entertainment, Les Films d’Ici, Arte France Cinema, Rai Cinema, Istituto Luce Cinecittà

About: The director of 2016 Golden Bear winner “Fire at Sea” travels to the Middle East and captures life there at night.

Sales company: Doc & Film Intl.

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