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Gaetano Blandini • Head of the Italian Film Board

Italian cinema on the silk route

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Gaetano Blandini • Head of the Italian Film Board

The 21st century "silk route" is not so much populated by caravans of camels laden with precious materials and spices, but more by film production companies in search of new partners to realise their dreams. Italy has been making significant headway in this field over the last 12 months, creating new co-production partnerships with other countries - specifically India and China to help boost Italian production.

Gianni Amelio's new film The Missing Star (L'étoille manquante) was shot in China, Lina Wertmüller is said to be heading east to shoot her new work and Italian director Francesca Archibugi is currently on set in India. We asked the head of the Italian Film Board, Gaetano Blandini, to give us an overview of how these co-production deals work and how they can be fully exploited to benefit Italian cinema.

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Cineuropa: What procedures govern co-production deals between Italy and other countries?
Gaetano Blandini: Once co-production agreements have been signed by the two parties, they then have to be passed by both houses of the Italian parliament before they actually become law. This process takes an average of 12 to 18 months, so for example the most recent deals we have signed with China (in December 2004) and India (in May 2005) have yet to enter into Italian law. This is a bit difficult for our foreign partners to understand as it is often much quicker for them to ratify these types of agreements.

Could this lead to concrete projects being delayed?
Yes and in fact to avoid these problems a modification was made to the cinema law in 2004. Now, the culture minister - in agreement with the head of the Film Board and the Cinema Commission - can create an exception allowing certain co-productions that would fall under the co-production agreement (with specific cultural, economic or industrial interests) to actually go ahead - even though the deal is not yet law. This is the current state of affairs for the co-production pacts with China and India.

What happens then?
Obviously once the deals have been approved by parliament, the state has then done the groundwork and the baton is then passed on to private Italian entrepreneurs and producers. But given this time of crisis for Italian cinema - not so much from the point of view of ideas or projects but on the financial front - co-productions are having difficulty. We are aware of this and are setting up a series of meetings to discuss individual projects, encouraging and helping an exchange of ideas between producers in different countries.

Are there any such events in the offing?
An initiative of this type is due to take place in India at the end of November. A small delegation of representatives from the Italian Film Board and Cinecittà Holding together with a group of Italian producers will be spending a few days in India. The idea is to illustrate the benefits of the Italy-India co-production deal and to verify concrete possibilities for co-productions. One example already up and running is the film Lezioni di volo (Flying Lessons) by Francesca Archibugi. It is a co-production involving Italy, India, France and the UK (involving Italian production company Cattleya among others, with Italian public funding contributions).

Given the current financial situation facing Italian cinema, could co-productions help Italian filmmakers find the necessary resources for their works?
The co-production route is certainly a way of making more Italian films. But, without wanting to be too critical, to do this our producers have to be actively involved. Unfortunately there are still too few Italian producers who work in and have knowledge of other markets. And I'm not just talking about the international markets or the new markets we all hear about, but more specifically those closer to home, first and foremost in Europe. There are very few Italian producers who know about this field. This is why our projects have problems breaking through and finding support on a European level - for example through Eurimages but even through the MEDIA programme - because our producers have a cultural deficit in terms of their relationship with other countries. They have to start operating and moving on a wider plane, especially given the Italian scene has certainly become more restricted.

Do you see this changing in the short to medium-term future?
Things are certainly starting to move, but more needs to be done and it needs to be done better as well. Everyone has to play their part and I would like to encourage producers to become more active. It's our job to put the various parties in contact something we have already done with initiatives like the Italian-French Forum organised on our behalf by Cinecittà Holding (in June 2005). And in fact we are currently working with the French CNC to try to set up a follow-up to this. Then there's the Indian meeting at the end of this month and we are also starting up discussions with the Spanish. We are also trying something similar with the Russians but we are slightly blocked there at the moment as new reforms have just been made to the Russian film industry, thus changing all the points of contact.

There has also been mention of a possible co-production agreement between Italy and Hungary?
Yes, we're at a good stage in negotiations with Hungary at the moment - we're discussing the finishing touches to a deal. But all these agreements are like cars you need to put petrol in them to make them go, and this is why I mentioned the cuts will probably create difficulties.

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