Industry Groups Threaten to 'Block' Venice Film Fest Press Event

They are protesting the government's decision to abolish a tax incentive, which helps offset production costs incurred in Italy, at the end of next year.

ROME -- Associations and organizations representing Italy’s cinema sector say they will “block” the press conference during which the Venice Film Festival will announce its lineup unless the country's production tax credit is renewed.

In its latest round of belt tightening, the Italian government announced last week that it would stop funding the annual tax credit that helps offset cinema and television production costs. The incentive -- which provides up to $6.6 million (€5 million) in production costs for Italian productions and up to $4.6 million (€3.5 million) for Italian co-productions shot in Italy -- is set to expire at the end of next year.

Some three dozen industry groups, including the audiovisual association ANICA, the cinema exhibitors' association ANEC, the entertainment industry association AGIS and the 100autori writers’ association, plus various regional film boards and several trade unions, protested the government’s decision at Saturday’s Nastri d’Argento (Silver Ribbons) film awards in Sicily. They also announced plans to take action if the credit was not reinstated by July 25, the date of the Venice press conference in Rome.

On Monday, a senior official from one of the organizations involved told The Hollywood Reporter that the groups would “block” the conference in protest if the incentives were not extended. But the official, who asked not to be named, did not explain whether that meant physically preventing the conference from taking place, protesting during the conference, or perhaps even holding back Italian films selected to screen during the event.

“The appropriate action will be determined if the tax credit remains suspended on July 25,” the official said.

Venice officials declined to comment.

The action may still be avoided. Prime minister Enrico Letta said Monday that the government’s next budget will include increased funding for culture, though he did not mention the tax credit by name. And minister of culture Massimo Bray has called a press conference for Thursday, presumably to address the issue.

Four years ago, cinema sector groups threatened similar action at the Venice press conference when the tax credit was under threat. But after some progress in negotiations the groups simply read a letter of protest at the conference, and the tax credit was renewed without interruption.

In May, after the appointment of Bray in the new Letta government, industry players told The Hollywood Reporter that a renewal of the tax credit should be a top priority for the new government. And in a parliamentary address about four weeks later, Bray outlined an ambitious set of priorities for his ministry that included a renewal of the credit.

The government’s decision to eliminate the production incentive comes as it works to reduce debt in order to stave off fears the country could fall victim to the European debt crisis. At the end of last year, Italy’s debt was equivalent to 127 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, the second highest debt-to-GDP ratio in Europe, behind only Greece.

Twitter: @EricJLyman