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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 August, 2003, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Italian film makes waves

by Darren Waters
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The Venice Film Festival is taking place this year amidst a resurgent Italian film industry.

La Meglio di Gioventu
The Best of Youth is a critical and commercial hit
A glance at the box office charts in Italy reveals a cinema-going culture not too dissimilar from that of the United States or the UK.

Final Destination 2, Bullet Proof Monk and Bruce Almighty are the most popular films at the box office.

The only "Italian" film you will find in the top five is The Italian Job, and that hardly counts.

But cinema-going and the Italian film industry remain markedly different from many other countries.

It is no longer embarrassing to say you are going to see an Italian film
Melanie Roderier
Screen International
Almost all Hollywood blockbusters released in the country are dubbed into Italian, and, on average, a quarter of all tickets bought in Italy are for Italian produced films.

The international success of films such as La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful) and Il Postino have helped raise the profile of the industry, which is currently enjoying a period of growth.

Investment in national productions is up, the numbers of films in production are up and more Italians than ever are going to the cinema.

Roberto Benigni
Roberto Benigni is an international star
Cristiana Paterno, managing director of Tam Tam Cinema, the official website of state agency Italia Cinema, said: "Italian cinema is now stronger than ever compared to the last 20 years.

"Five of the top 10 films of the last few months have been Italian - that has not happened since 1980/81."

'More appealing'

Melanie Roderier, Screen International's Italy correspondent, agreed the industry was in good shape.

"Italian films seem to be more appealing now to the public than they used to be.

"People say it is no longer embarrassing to say you are going to see an Italian film."

The most successful film of 2002 was Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio, which took more money than The Lord of the Rings, and two other Italian productions made the top 10 of the year.

"In the 1980s and 1990s we were in deep crisis," said Ms Paterno.

"Films had a very low appeal for Italian audiences. But now film-makers are giving something new and fresh and are speaking to audiences about their problems and feelings."

Films such as Respiro and The Best of Youth have proved commercial and critical successes.

But the industry is still recovering from a crisis that decimated film production in Italy in the 1980s and early 1990s, and is a long way from matching the heights of the golden age of cinema.

Federico Fellini
Fellini is one of Italy's greatest film makers
Part of the problem is that Italian cinema is dominated by the greats of the past who cast such a long shadow over the current industry.

Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Pier Paolo Pasolino and Rome studio Cinecitta have created a legacy and a standard that contemporary film-makers struggle to match.

Pupi Avati, director and head of Cinecitta Holdings, is unequivocal about the state of film-making in the country.

"It isn't an industry, but it has the potential to regain lost ground. Today every film-maker represents his own personal genre."

'Choose Italy'

Just four of the 20 films in competition at the Venice film festival are Italian. US films still account for about 70% of all ticket sales in the country and the numbers of Italian-produced films is yet to match the levels of the 1980s.

In Italy the real problem is exhibition - getting films shown
Dr Graham Roberts
European film expert
But there is also still great passion and patriotism for the industry.

Mario Monicelli, the president of the Venice film festival jury, said: "If it's a tie, I'll choose Italy.

"I'm in no doubt, if I have to award a prize and I find myself facing an Italian or a foreign film, if there is a tie in the voting I'll let the Italian film win.

"It's an obvious mechanism that is normally adopted by all juries. It also happens at Cannes where the French make great use of this method."

Dr Graham Roberts, a lecturer in European cinema at Leeds University, said: "The thing about the Italian film industry is that films are being made and seen and it is not in an unhealthy state.

"Producers say it is on its last legs. But they always say that.

"The issue is, what are people actually going to see?

Buongiorno Notte
Bellocchio's Buongiorno Notte has been called a modern masterpiece
"In Italy the real problem is exhibition - getting films shown."

He added: "The problem facing film-makers is the same one facing the Spanish film industry - directors have had a taste of Hollywood with successes such as Life is Beautiful.

"Now they are torn between quintessentially Italian films and something more Hollywood, which is liked by the biggest audience."

Commercially aware

He said the problem with current Italian film-making is that the risk has been taken out of it.

But Tam Tam Cinema's Cristiana Paterno said Italy had its contemporary masters but the country also had producers who were more commercially aware, together with directors who knew how to appeal to audiences.

Ermanno Olmi
Cantando Dietro I Paraventi - directed by Ermanno Olmi - has international appeal
"Film-makers are trying to make films more targeted at audiences rather than just for themselves," she said.

"There are still the auteurs and there always will be."

"We have the big masters like Bertolucci and Salvatores, masters such as Bellocchio, Moretti and 'outsiders' such as Torres and Winspeare.

"Movies like Respiro and Best of Youth are not commercial in the Hollywood sense. The art quality is also high."

Ms Paterno also feels that contemporary film-makers are casting off that shadow of the legends of Italian cinema.

"They have made the cut with the past and are no longer burdened by the greats," she said.

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