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Italy is among the first countries in the world where film and TV production restarted after the peak of the pandemic and the country is now trying to become among the first in Europe to reopen movie theaters.

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini in late February announced tentative plans to reopen Italian cinemas on March 27 in areas with lower COVID-19 infection and death rates, using new stricter social distancing norms. Though it remains to be seen whether Franceschini’s plan will pan out, what’s clear is that “Italy’s trade organizations and the government are engaged in a fruitful dialogue,” says producer Carlo Cresto-Dina, whose Tempesta Film is best-known for regularly shepherding pics by Cannes regular Alice Rohrwacher such as “The Wonders” and “Happy as Lazzaro.”

Cresto Dina points out that “right now in Italy it’s tough to find available crew, since they are all taken,” thanks to the fact that local motion picture association ANICA was able to hammer out a workable COVID-19 shooting protocol early on. The government pitched in by raising the tax rebate for production from 30% to 40%, which “helped cover extra costs.”

In November, Cresto Dina, director Leonardo Di Costanzo, talent and crew disembarked on the island of Sardinia to shoot prison drama “The Inner Cage,” using the EcoMuvi eco-friendly protocol devised by Tempesta. Working in safety “bubbles,” they spent an extra €130,000 ($156,00) just for COVID-19 tests and wrapped the pic shortly before Christmas.

Meanwhile, besides producers getting support to sustain extra costs to shoulder the complexities of shooting during the pandemic, local exhibitors have also received government funding through subsidies based on a percentage of their 2019 business. And a complicated system of subsidies for Italian distributors is now also in place. In 2021 Italian films will benefit from an increased tax rebate for theatrical distribution. While before the pandemic the incentive for local movies to play in theaters was 30%, it will now go up to 80% during the first four months and 60% afterwards.

Government subsidies are enabling distributors to hold on to most of their top Italian titles in hopes of giving them proper theatrical outings.

Case in point is RAI Cinema, which “decided not to sell any of the titles that we were supposed to release to the streaming platforms,” says Paolo Del Brocco, chief of pubcaster RAI’s film production and distribution arm. For example, RAI Cinema decided to hold back Nanni Moretti’s “Three Floors,” widely expected to launch from Cannes; the Manetti Brothers’ “Diabolik,” based on a best-selling 1960s Bond style comic-book series; and “Freaks Out” by Gabriele Mainetti, who made a splash with offbeat superhero pic “They Call Me Jeeg.” Among Italy’s most hotly anticipated upcoming titles, Mainetti’s new genre-bender it is set in 1943 Rome, where four “freaks” who work in a circus are left to their own devices when the Eternal City is bombed by Allied Forces. “Freaks Out” is expected launch from Venice.

“Our mission is to support the industry,” notes Del Brocco, and we wanted to support exhibitors who are going to need strong product since lots of Hollywood titles have gone straight to streaming releases.” Del Brocco points out that RAI Cinema has “a wide range of product that is ready [for theatrical play].”

However Del Brocco and other Italian distributors are not overly enthusiastic about the prospect of a partial re-opening of movie theaters in Italian regions  with a lower coronavirus curve on March 27 for various reasons. The main one being that they cannot invest in a marketing campaign to launch a film that will be playing on a fraction of available seats in a fraction of potential screens. So even if some Italian cinemas do reopen on March 27, they won’t be showing premium product until sometime later, probably after the summer.

“The announcement of the [possible cinema] re-openings is a welcome sign of optimism and underlines the government’s attention toward our sector,” he says. “But in order to show Italians some hotly anticipated top titles we will have to wait a bit longer,” Del Brocco adds.

Standout Italian titles in various stages:

“The Inner Cage” (pictured) – Italian A-listers Silvio Orlando (“The Young Pope”) and Toni Servillo (“The Great Beauty”) respectively play an old mobster and a prison guard in a maximum security penitentiary in Sardinia, who are forced to develop a close rapport in this drama directed by Leonardo Di Costanzo (“The Intruder”).

“Delta” – In this revenge drama by emerging helmer Michele Vannucci (“Il Più Grande Sogno”) the delta of Italy’s Po river becomes the setting for a Western-style clash between poachers and fishermen, pitting characters played by Alessandro Borghi (“Devils”) and Luigi Lo Cascio (“The Traitor”).

“Time Is Up” – This English-language teen pic, pairing Bella Thorne with Italian popstar Benjamin Mascolo, turns on two high-school seniors, Vivien (Thorne), who is an accomplished student with a passion for physics, and Roy (Mascolo), a troubled young man. “When an accident forces the unlikely pair to come to a stop and reclaim their lives, one minute at the time, they finally start living in a present that perhaps will prove to be more exciting than any predefined formula,” according to promotional materials. Pic is directed by Italy’s Elisa Amoruso (“Chiara Ferragni – Unposted”).

“America Latina” – Italian twins Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, who made a splash in Berlin last year with “Bad Tales,” are back on set with dark thriller/romancer “America Latina,” toplining Elio Germano, who was at Berlin 2020 with two pics — one being “Bad Tales” and the other “Hidden Away” for which he scored a Silver Bear. “America Latina” story details are being kept under wraps. 

“The Hand of God” – Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino in September returned to his native Naples, 20 years after his dazzling debut “One Man Up,” to shoot this intimate and personal feature expected to mark a surprising stylistic departure from the rest of the “The Great Beauty” director’s body of work. Details are scarce about this Netflix Original film, the title of which is believed to be a reference to a goal famously scored with his hand by Argentinian soccer icon Diego Maradona, who was the star scorer for S.S.C. Napoli and is known to be an idol for Sorrentino, who is an ardent Napoli fan. Pic is now in post.