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Italian Production Buoyed by TV-Film Crossovers

2019 is looking buoyant for Italy’s film and longform narrative TV industries, which are becoming increasingly interconnected as a new generation of directors emerges. They are crossing over between the two media while recent legislation pumps millions of Euros into the country’s production and distribution sectors.

Just as high-end TV dramas directed by Italian film auteurs such as Paolo Sorrentino’s “The Young Pope” and Saverio Costanzo’s “My Brilliant Friend” conquer global small-screen audiences, theatrical box-office returns have been plunging, prompting many of Italy’s top film industry players to regroup. Most are making both movies and TV.

Case in point: Palomar, the company behind “Piranhas,” Italy’s Berlin competition entry depicting Neapolitan teen gangsters. The gritty drama is directed by up-and-coming helmer Claudio Giovannesi and based on a novel by star author Roberto Saviano, whose mob exposé “Gomorrah” spawned both a prize-winning movie and a game-changing TV series.

Active in TV and film, Palomar was recently acquired by big French player Mediawan. Soon they will launch their buzzed-about English-language “The Name of The Rose” show, toplining John Turturro as 14th-century Franciscan monk William of Baskerville and Rupert Everett as his antagonist. It was shot in Rome’s famed Cinecittà Studios, which is currently undergoing a revamp.

Palomar co-produced “Piranhas” with Vision Distribution, a new theatrical distribution outfit formed by European pay-TV platform Sky and several prominent Italian production companies. Until recently it was headed by former Warner Bros. Italy managing director Nicola Maccanico, who is now Sky Italia’s content chief.

Maccanico says he is “proud to be able to present to the world” a young Italian director such as Giovannesi. What’s happening in Italy is “our auteurs have veered towards TV because it gives them a greater creative canvas.” And this means local producers “need to find movie projects on that same scale.”

Another young Italian director, Matteo Rovere — who is also a producer — recently took a stab doing something cinematically bigger and bolder with Rome origins actioner “Romulus & Remus: The First King,” a realistic reconstruction of the mythical tale of the Eternal City’s founding during 8th century B.C. by twins Romulus and Remus. Rovere’s quality genre pic, largely spoken in pre-Roman Latin dialogue and made on what for Italy is a relatively robust $9 million budget, marks a major novelty.

“I want to prove that the Italian industry can achieve excellent results on a par with international standards in prosthetics, stunts, special effects, fights and costumes,” the director boasted at a recent Rome presser for his pic which, oddly, will be playing in Italian cinemas during the Berlinale instead of launching from the fest. Rovere will next embark on a TV series spin-off titled “Romulus,” drawing from the same material as the movie but with a different angle and co-produced in tandem with prominent shingle Cattleya, known internationally for “Gomorrah” and Netflix’s “Suburra.”

As TV production increasingly gains traction in Italy, theatrical admissions last year sunk to their lowest numbers in a decade, just shy of 86 million. This is alarming for producers even though Italian movies accounted for a relatively strong 22% market share in 2018.

However, there are signs that Italian film legislation, which has started pumping an estimated €400 million ($458 million) annually into all Italian industry sectors, will help remove this sore spot thanks to incentives to build new movie theaters and refurbish existing facilities. Also, the Hollywood studios have finally decided to slot their blockbusters in summer, which was previously shunned because so many Italians hit the beach at that time. This key change should help unclog the pipeline throughout the rest of the year and reverse the downward trend.

Another significant novelty is that the country’s David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars, are being managed for the first time by a woman, Piera Detassis, editor of leading local film mag Ciack. She is overhauling the local academy by slimming down the number of voters. Though Detassis did make an effort toward gender parity she has said it’s impossible at the moment.

The ratio of David prize voters from Italian film industry ranks is 851 men and 313 women.

By contrast, there is perfect gender parity among directors of the six Italian titles competing for Berlinale prizes, all of whom are quite young and relative newcomers.

Launching from the Panorama section are Michela Occhipinti’s drama “Flesh Out,” centered on a tradition in Mauritania and sub-Saharan Africa that sees some women submitting to an obligation to eat excessively in order to become more desirable; and also Adele Tulli’s doc “Normal,” which explores how female and male identities play out in everyday interactions. Then there is Mo Scarpelli’s documentary “Anbessa,” which is set in the Ethiopian countryside, bowing in the Generation K-Plus section. In the men’s camp, besides Giovannesi’s “Pirhanas,” in competition, the other male directors at the Berlinale (both in Panorama) are Federico Bondi with “Dafne,” about a gifted young woman who has Down syndrome, and Agostino Ferrente’s doc “Selfie,” which observes Neapolitan adolescents through videos they made with their cellphones.

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