Three new film projects seek to channel Fellini

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Fifteen years after his death, the spirit of Federico Fellini is being resurrected onscreen.

Much attention has been heaped on "Nine," Rob Marshall's adaptation of the Tony-winning play that reimagines the legendary Italian auteur's 1963 masterwork, "81⁄2," as a musical. But two other little-known Fellini projects also are moving forward.

Currently casting in Mexico, "Voyage to Tulum" is based on a treatment Fellini prepared in the early '80s after taking a bizarre trip to research Mexican shamanism. Haunted by what "Tulum" producer Lorenzo Minoli calls "strange voices" and "bizarre incidents," Fellini created -- in typically idiosyncratic fashion -- an autobiographical account of the trip in comic book form.

Using this as the basis for a screenplay, Minoli -- who is producing in partnership with Rome's Aracne Studio and Lithuania's LFS Studios -- says the project has many of Fellini's trademarks: magical realism; a free-flowing, picaresque narrative; and a troubled artist on a spiritual journey.

But unlike such classics as "81⁄2" and 1960's "La Dolce Vita," in which Marcello Mastroianni portrayed the director's alter ego, "Tulum" features Fellini himself in a prominent role. Minoli ruefully admits that this poses a casting challenge, and likens the task to when he was casting the title role in his 1999 telefilm "Jesus."

"Both are beloved characters!" he jokes. "It will be hard to find the right actor to play Federico. He is an intimidating figure. Many of the actors we have looked at were not up to the task of portraying a legend like Fellini."

A legend of another kind led Fellini to a separate project he was working on before his death on Halloween in 1993. "In the Valley of the Butterflies" is based on an unpublished memoir by Nicola Longo, the man who came to be known as the "Italian Serpico" for his daring exploits as an undercover agent fighting the drug trade in the '60s and '70s. L.A.-based producer Oscar Generale stumbled upon the project after a chance encounter with Longo; the former policeman was impressed by his fellow countryman's enthusiasm.

"We bonded immediately," Generale says. "The project originally came about when Fellini met Nicola in the '70s and told him he wanted to make a film about his life. He encouraged Nicola to write his life story, which he would then use as the basis for the film. Federico called Nicola a 'poet with a pistol.' "

While there is currently no script ("Fellini had no use for traditional screenplays," Generale says), the producer has the rights to a detailed treatment by famed Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra, as well as Longo's unpublished memoir and scores of documents that Fellini collected as part of his research.

Like Minoli, Generale is not trying to merely cash in with the project. "This is not about money," he says, adding that he simply wants to recruit a filmmaker up to the task of interpreting a "true film icon like Fellini." Indeed, when asked who should direct the film, the ever-ambitious Generale -- who says he will finance the project himself -- insists he has only three filmmakers in mind: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Brian De Palma.

"I feel like I have a Rolls-Royce in the garage," he says with smile. "I will provide the gasoline, but I must find just the right driver."

While neither producer was aware of the other's project, Minoli and Generale share a sincere desire to carry on Fellini's unique film legacy at a time when both say it is sorely needed.

"Artistically, Italian film is really nothing like it was during Fellini's time," Generale says. "There is no longer an emphasis on creating quality cinema. It's all just about making money. It is the same in Hollywood. The world could really use Federico Fellini right now."

Adds Minoli: "After Michelangelo died, schools continued to teach his techniques and study his work so it could live on. The same should happen with Federico. We need a 'School of Fellini' -- and enrollment should always be open."
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