Confidence men: Veltroni, Berlusconi in Italy PM mix

Familiar figures eyed after Prodi ouster

Romano Prodi late Thursday narrowly lost a no-confidence vote in the Italian Senate, ending his third term as Italian prime minister and possibly opening the door for one of two figures familiar to cinema industry insiders to take control of the Italian government.

The Senate voted 161-156 against Prodi, who handed his resignation to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano about an hour after the failed vote.

Today, Napolitano is expected to either call new elections or appoint a temporary caretaker government led by Prodi or some other figure charged with passing an electoral reform law that would be immediately followed by new elections.

Though Italian politics are notoriously difficult to predict, the smart money says that when the dust settles, the man wearing the prime minister's three-color sash will be either billionaire media tycoon and three-time Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi or Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni, founder of the 3-year-old RomaCinemaFest and a noted film buff.

"Everything could change within a few days, but at this point, yes, Berlusconi and Veltroni both lead their coalitions, and that makes them the most likely candidates to win an election," said Maria Rossi, co-director of the polling firm Opinioni.

Each man has a different view of the film industry.

"It's true that with both Berlusconi and Veltroni there are candidates who know the film industry from their own perspective," said Riccardo Tozzi, Cattleya Studios chief and the president of the cinema, audiovisual and multimedia association ANICA. "But there's no way to guess what impact that will have on the industry."

If the 71-year-old Berlusconi takes over, one significant change is that the so-called Gentiloni reform — Prodi's media reform proposal that would limit ad revenue for Berlusconi's Mediaset and other broadcasters and force them to switch to more modern digital technologies — would likely stall.

"Remember that the current (media) law was written by Berlusconi and that the new proposed law does Mediaset no favors," said Gianluca Rumori, the head of institutional communications with satellite broadcaster Sky-Italia.

Veltroni's lack of a national track record makes it more difficult to predict what could happen if he takes power. The 52-year-old could take steps to strengthen the RomaCinemaFest, for example, but observers said that would spark sharp criticism from backers of the more established Venice Film Festival, Rome's main rival.

He might also be inclined to give more support to the cinema industry, but that would likely be indirect, by perhaps appointing an industry figure as his minister of culture.

"I know Veltroni's a well-known fan of films, but if he becomes prime minister he'll have plenty of other things to worry about aside from that," ANICA's Tozzi said.