Recovering Italian Film Industry Looks to Venice as Collective Catalyst

Last Words by Jonathan Nossiter
Maximilien Gobiet/Courtesy Punto e Virgola

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 new outfit 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,” she notes.

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,” (pictured), 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 fresh 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 noted. Vivo Film is among the first Italian companies expected to soon start shooting a new 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.