New lease on life

Cecchi Gori keeps hand in film

For the first time in three years, the storied Cecchi Gori name appeared on a major film in Italy, when the romantic comedy "Scusa ma ti Chiamo Amore" (I'm Sorry If I Call You My Love) premiered in late January.

The film was a hit. The story about an unlikely romance between a 32-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl stayed at No. 1 in Italy for two weeks, and after four weeks in cinemas it has earned nearly $18 million. Vittorio Cecchi Gori, who co-produced the film along with Silvio Berlusconi's Medusa, said more is on the way.

Emerging from several years in courts and confronting debilitating financial issues, the 65-year-old Cecchi Gori — who has produced three Oscar-winning films in 1992's "Mediterraneo," 1996's "Il Postino" (The Postman) and 1999's "La Vita e Bella" (Life Is Beautiful) — earlier this month announced the creation of a new production company under the moniker New Capital, which will start out with $15 million in the bank. Cecchi Gori also said he would look to auction rights to some 700 films he produced or owns distribution rights to in a deal that could raise more than $60 million for future production efforts.

He also has started work on a new film, "Il Ballo della Vittoria" (The Dancer and the Thief), based on the latest book from Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta, whose 1985 novel "El Cartero de Neruda" was turned into "Il Postino." Two other films are in preproduction.

Cecchi Gori got his start in the film business working with his father, venerable producer Mario Cecchi Gori, who died in 1993. But the younger Cecchi Gori also tried his hand as a venture capitalist, a soccer team owner and a senator. But he says films are what he does best.

"I want to get back to what I love, which is making good films," Cecchi Gori says from Rome's exclusive Palazzo Borghese, which houses his home, his offices and a Renaissance-era ballroom converted into a private cinema. "I've done a lot of things, but I've never forgotten how to make films."

His career started in 1980 and includes more than 170 production credits. In one intense four-year period in the late 1990s, he produced 46 films. But he says those days are gone.

"I don't want to go back to making 12 films a year," he says. "Times have changed. It's important to do fewer films and do them well. I can see doing five or six films — but good, well-made films — a year."

Starting on that path has not been easy, he says. After being out of the business a few years, he says he has to prove himself all over again.

"I really should have been born in America," he says. "In America, they only care if you can do the job. But Italy is tough. I have three Oscars and I have to re-prove myself every time."
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