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Theatrical decline ups TV's profile.

ROME

In Italy, the first quarter of 2008 saw an unprecedented six local pics in the top 10 despite a 7% box office drop.

That means Italian producers are quite happy, while buyers are going to Cannes with modest appetites.

"We're sort of going French," says Lucky Red buyer Stefano Massenzi, referring to how Italy's current homegrown growth is similar to Gaul's historic trend.

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"Italian movies are getting much more attention, opening a lot wider, and that is impacting everything."

That said, Lucky Red scored Italy's biggest art-house hit this year to date with weighty Gallic auteur Abdellatif Kechiche's "The Secret of the Grain," which grossed $2.9 million.

But concurrently, "more mainstream" is the Italo indie's new mantra, as signaled by having Hollywood titles like "Rush Hour 3" and "Halloween" in its recent lineup.

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Given harsh competish in the theatrical arena and a slowdown in DVD sales, TV sales are more crucial than ever in the Italo market.

"We always keep in mind what will be (best) for pay and free TV," says Fabio Spinella, buyer for Moviemax, a 2-year-old player that just closed multi-picture deals with both Sky Italia and Mediaset.

Spinella's criteria: "We tend to avoid movies that are too violent, without name casts, and with arthouse storylines."

Meanwhile, on the production front, Italo industryites are eagerly awaiting tax-shelter incentives. These key financing facilitators were introduced by the country's outgoing parliament, but still need to clear a final hurdle under Silvio Berlusconi's new government before they can go into effect.

"The tax breaks should really breathe new life into the industry," says Mikado director Francesco Melzi d'Eril. "Let's just hope they will go through."

As for acquisitions in Cannes, Mikado will be looking for completed product, which it considers to be less risky than shelling out at script stage.

ITALY STATS

FILM FINANCE AT A GLANCE

Film production spend 2007: $434 million

Estimated production spend 2008: $550 million

INCENTIVES

Regional film funds, government subsidies, tax breaks.

WEB

Italian Film Commission: filminginItaly.com

Torino/Piedmont Film Commission: fctp.it

Friuli Venezia Giulia Film Commission: fvgfilmcommission.com

Roma/Lazio Film Commission: romalaziofilmcommissioni.it

B.O. STATS

Top film: "Shrek the Third" $28 million

Total B.O.: $979 million

Total number of releases: 887

PICKUPS

"Shutter Island," Medusa

"Triage," RAI Cinema

"The Wrestler," Lucky Red

"Happy-Go-Lucky," Mikado

"Step Up 2 the Streets," Moviemax

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Title Annotation:ITALY
Author:Vivarelli, Nick
Publication:Variety
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:May 12, 2008
Words:397
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