Multiple partners in plan for Milan film studio

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LOCARNO, Switzerland -- A €305 million ($420.9 million) plan to convert a former tobacco plant in Milan into Italy's latest film studio was unveiled Wednesday. It calls for the development of an 83,000-square-meter (900,000-square-foot) facility that could host its first film as early as 2008.

Plans to develop a Milan-based studio to rival Rome's Cinecitta Studios have been talked about for years. But Pirelli Real Estate's announcement that it will begin the process of rezoning the former Manifattura Tabacchi facilities is the most concrete evidence yet that the plan has traction.

The Milan project, which involves about two dozen partners, comes at a time when Cinecitta and other established studios in Western Europe are finding themselves caught in a crunch between more technologically advanced studios in the U.S. and less expensive rivals in Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

Plans for the as-yet-unnamed studios are ambitious, with 54,000 square meters (585,000 square feet) of private space and another 29,000 square meters (315,000 square feet) open to the public. The property is reportedly worth some €47 million ($64.9 million), with another €258 million ($356 million) guaranteed by the partners as development funding.

The plan is controversial, as any new Italian studio will no doubt put additional pressure on legendary Cinecitta, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year.

The new studio plan also is playing on the traditional rivalry between Italy's wealthy northern regions and the slower-paced regions in the southern and central parts of the country, where the capital and Cinecitta are located.

Umberto Bossi -- a former government minister under Silvio Berlusconi and founder of the Northern League, a political party that proposes separating northern Italy into a separate country called Padania -- made an unscheduled visit to the Locarno Film Festival last week and hinted that the new Milan studios could be the end of Cinecitta.

Acknowledging that Rome had the upper hand compared to Milan in terms of film production, Bossi vowed that wouldn't be the case for long.

"Even in the world of cinema, we will beat Rome," Bossi vowed during a small press briefing here. "The first film made in Milan's Cinecitta next year will be about the Battle of Legnano," he said, referring to a 12th century battle in which the Milan-based Lombard League gained its independence by defeating the pope's armies from Rome.
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