The Italian film and TV industry was on a roll when the pandemic hit the country particularly hard. It’s now starting to bounce back as movie theaters reopen and productions prepare to shoot, while the Venice Film Festival, set to physically take place in September, may become a symbol of the global entertainment industry recovery effort.
Besides the festival, Venice in September is expected to host Tom Cruise on the Grand Canal as Paramount’s “Mission: Impossible 7” is scheduled to restart filming — one of roughly 40 shoots, which includes 17 feature films, 19 TV series and some shorts — that ground to a halt in March when Italy went into lockdown.
Since March, the Italian government has been quite supportive of the entertainment industry, providing a roughly $145 million aid package for exhibitors, distributors and producers. And Netflix and Italy’s film commissions have launched a fund to provide short-term emergency support to crews that were forced to stop working including, but not limited to, Netflix productions.
As for the Cannes virtual market, top Italian sales companies will all be attending, but without great expectations. Or rather, they really don’t know what to expect.
“It’s going to be a ‘pilot episode’ for all of us,” says veteran sales agent Catia Rossi, who heads Vision Distribution, which launched earlier this year in Berlin. “We all still need to understand if it will work; and if so, how much. Basically I just don’t know how much attention Cannes can generate towards our product.”
Rossi also points out that “going to physical markets at Cannes or Berlin usually involves elements that are missing this year [in a virtual market].” The key one: having a title screening in one of the festival sections. After Nanni Moretti’s “Tre Piani” (Three Floors) was pulled from Cannes, possibly opting for Venice, there is just one Italian production carrying the Cannes Official Selection Label. It’s Italy-based U.S. director Jonathan Nossiter’s “Last Words,” an ecological fable about the last filmmaker on earth in 2085 when crops don’t grow and children are no longer being born. Timely pic with an ensemble cast comprising Nick Nolte, Charlotte Rampling, Alba Rohrwacher and Stellan Skarsgard is being sold by France’s the Party Film Sales.
At Cannes, most Italian sellers who have new product are holding back because there is an Italian Screenings market a few weeks later, so they are waiting until then to unveil their product, which might then either go to Venice or surface at Toronto. Rome-based sales company True Colours is using the Cannes mart to launch Francesca Mazzoleni’s doc “Punta Sacra,” about a shantytown near Rome, which won the recent Visions du Réel fest and will be now be having its market premiere.
On the production side, film and TV industry organizations are hammering out agreements with the government as they prepare to go back on set.
“In Italy, we are trying to come to a model where somehow everybody contributes to the risk and shares the risk,” said Marta Donzelli, co-chief of Italy’s Vivo Film, at a recent Variety-moderated panel. Local legislators are trying “to involve big distributors, broadcasters, players and public funds” within a collective effort.
The Italian culture ministry is also in the process of raising local tax credits for productions from 30%-40% of expenses, “which would give us the possibility of absorbing costs directly generated by COVID-19 protocols,” Donzelli notes.
Vivo Film is among the first Italian companies expected to soon start shooting feature film, “Non Mi Uccidere,” a chiller based on a bestselling Gothic novel, to be directed by Andrea De Sica, who helmed the series “Baby” for Netflix.
PICS IN THE PIPELINE
Italian movies are taking a sharper turn toward genre storytelling, though classic auteur titles remain a strong component of the country’s cinematic output. Below is a compendium of standout cinema Italiano projects in various stages.
Andrà Tutto Bene (Everything’s Gonna Be Alright)
This dramedy, directed by Francesco Bruni, has the rare distinction of having landed a deal for remake rights, with Germany’s DCM Film Intl., even before being released. While one could be forgiven for thinking the title pertains to the coronavirus pandemic, pic is instead about a down-and-out film director who discovers he has a form of leukemia for which he needs a stem cell transplant from a matching donor. Kim Rossi Stuart (“Crime Novel,” “Angel of Evil”) plays the lead. Bruni, who based the story on his own personal fight with an illness, is a prominent Italian screenwriter-turned-director whose directorial debut, “Scialla” (“Chill”), went to Venice in 2011.
Born to be Murdered
Luca Guadagnino produced this thriller — now in post — in which a couple (Alicia Vikander and John David Washington) are vacationing in Greece. They falls into a violent conspiracy with tragic consequences. Ferdinando Cito Filomarino follows his debut feature, “Antonia,” a biopic of Italian poet Antonia Pozzi, with this outing.
La Bella Estate
Laura Luchetti, who made a splash with 2018 teen runaway drama “Twin Flower,” will soon return behind camera to shoot this adaptation of a collection of three short stories by prominent Italian author Cesare Pavese that share coming-of-age tropes and are set in early postwar Italy. Financing and casting are in their final stages.
The Life Ahead
Netflix recently acquired global rights to this drama, which marks Sophia Loren’s return to a feature film after a decade’s absence. Directed by her son Edoardo Ponti, “Life Ahead” sees the iconic Italian Oscar-winner playing Madame Rosa, a Holocaust survivor who forges a bond with a 12-year-old Senegalese immigrant boy named Momo. Pic may launch from the Venice Film Festival. The film is an adaptation of Romain Gary’s novel “La vie devant soi,” which was previously adapted for the big screen by Israeli filmmaker Moshe Mizrahi as “Madame Rosa,” starring Simone Signoret. That film won the 1977 foreign-language Oscar.
Non Mi Uccidere
(Don’t Kill Me)
Young director Andrea De Sica, who helmed the bulk of teen series “Baby” for Netflix, is set to shoot a horror film geared toward the same youth demographic as the show. It’s based on a bestselling Gothic novel about a 19-year-old named Mirta who, with her older lover, Robin, dies of a drug overdose. She then reanimates alone to find out that in order to continue living, and cherishing the memory of Robin’s love, she must eat living humans. Shooting is expected to start soon. Cast is being contractualized. Pic is the director’s sophomore feature after “Children of the Night,” a coming-of-age story set at an upper-crust boarding school that flirted with horror elements.
Gianfranco Rosi, who won Berlin’s Golden Bear in 2016 for his migration documentary, “Fire at Sea,” and the Venice Golden Lion before that for “Sacro GRA,” about life on the ring road around Rome, is in post on this look at life at night across the Middle East. For the film, Rosi immersed himself in war zones and other Middle East hot spots, as is his modus operandi when filming.
Voyage in Italy
Oscar-winning Italian director Gabriele Salvatores (“Mediterraneo”) is making this doc chronicling life in Italy during lockdown using material from social media and videos sent to his team by people during the pandemic. RAI Com is selling in Cannes.