Italian gov't criticized over film co-financing

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VENICE, Italy -- An investigative report in Wednesday's issue of the Turin-based daily La Stampa blasted the Italian government's policy of co-financing films, pointing out that only 25 of 544 films subsidized by the state over the past decade turned a profit.

The report said that the government has spent about €817 million ($1.2 billion) over 10 years -- spread among 61 production houses and 390 directors -- and has very little to show for the investment.

"It's a colossal amount intended to spur the (Italian) industry to confront American films and the rising number of films from Asia," the article by investigative journalist Raffaella Silipo said. "But the results have been anemic."

Calls seeking comment from the Ministry of Culture -- the government agency that oversees most film sector financing initiatives -- were not returned.

The results have been up and down from year to year but never strong, according to Silipo's research.

The best year in the last decade was 2005, when financing worth €72 million resulted in films grossing €35 million, or 48% of the amount invested. The worst year was 2004, when investments worth €69.9 million returned just €5.2 million, a mere 7% of the amount spent by the state.

The research did turn up a few success stories. The most dramatic was Fausto Brizzi's 2005 hit "Notte Prima degli Esami" (The Night Before Finals), which grossed €12.1 million after receiving €800,000 in state financing. Eleven films grossed at least $1 million more than the amount invested by the state.

But for every success, there were more than 20 failures. Among the most significant were 1997's "Oltre la Giustizia" (Outside the Law), from Juan Jose Jusid, which attracted just 197 moviegoers and grossed only €995 after the state invested €352,224; and Lorenzo Hendel's 2003 film "Quando I Bambini Giocano in Cielo" (When Children Play in the Sky), which was seen by only 377 viewers and grossed €2,192 after receiving government financing worth €1.1 million.

All told, more than a dozen of the 544 state-financed films grossed less than 1% of the amount spent by government agencies and more than a third grossed less than 25% of the amount invested.

The news breaks as the government has said it wants to increase its support of the Italian film industry, though there is no indication whether the increased support will come in the form of an increase in the money earmarked for state financing.
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