Italy offers versatile location, strong incentives

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Italy's history as a filming location goes back to 1895, just a few months after the creation of the first motion picture camera, when inventor and film pioneer W.K. Dickson recorded a few moments of Pope Leo XIII celebrating mass at the Vatican.

Afterward, the pontiff blessed the new-fangled camera and predicted a bright future for the technology that he said would intrigue the locals.

Turns out he was on to something. The years since have produced one of the world's richest cinema traditions, and Italy still serves as the site of dozens of international films per year.

Directors never seem to grow tired of the country's scenery, whether it's the canals of Venice or the rolling vineyards of Tuscany, the Roman ruins of the Italian capital or the stately castles and villas of the country's north. Italy also boasts a who's who of legendary auteurs that includes such luminaries as Vittorio DeSica, Luchino Visconti, Roberto Rossellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini and Federico Fellini, as well as the immeasurable experience of venerable film studios like Rome's Cinecitta, and now millions in regional and national incentives for films shot on the boot-shaped peninsula.

"The strength of Italy is her history," says Daniel Segre, production manager at the Turin-Piedmont Film Commission, one of the country's best-known film boards. "The country is capable of offering unique locations and a great capacity for filmmaking."

Piedmont is one of at least a dozen Italian regions with a film commission that offers tax incentives and reimbursements for some of the costs associated with filming in the region, along with help in scouting locations and negotiating local contracts. The biggest such fund is set to be the national one, as Italy's 2008 budget will include funds that will reimburse up to 40% of the cost of shooting a film in Italy, maxing out at €1 million ($1.4 million) per project.

It is difficult to discuss the topic of filmmaking in Italy without mentioning Cinecitta, which is responsible for around 80 productions a year. The storied studios that brought the world classic epics like 1959's "Ben-Hur" and 1963's "Cleopatra," and more modern productions such as 2002's "Gangs of New York" and 2004's "The Passion of the Christ," is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

But the massive studio complex just outside Rome is not resting on its laurels. Recent years have seen it expand from its original location to include two more elsewhere in Italy and a third in Morocco. All told, Cinecitta now operates 30 soundstages and five backlots -- making it Europe's largest film studio -- and a complete postproduction lab.

"From start to finish, Cinecitta can do almost anything a filmmaker needs us to do," says Lamberto Mancini, the studio's general manager. "We have become a true one-stop shop."


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