Italian Distributors' Network Head Resigns Over Netflix-Venice Feud

ON MY SKIN Still 1 - Venice Film Festival Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Venice International Film Festival

Andrea Occhipinti has stepped down as president of film distributors after his latest movie was at the center of a scandal between exhibitors and the festival.

Andrea Occhipinti has resigned from his post as president of film distributors at ANICA, Italy's leading film organization that represents Italy's producers, distributors and technical industries, following the very public feud between Venice and Italy's film exhibitors who were upset that the festival gave so much of its platform to Netflix.

Occhipinti also served as producer of Alessio Cremonini's On My Skin at his Lucky Red company.

"I decided to resign because our choice of distributing On My Skin by Alessio Cremonini simultaneously in theaters and on Netflix has created many tensions between the operators who have planned it (few) and those who have chosen not to do so (many)," said Occhipinti in a statement Tuesday. "The success of the film has increased these tensions, although there were precedents in Italy and there is a heated debate at the international level."

"On My Skin does not mark the beginning of a new distribution mode: all Lucky Red films respect exploitation windows. The centrality of the movie theater has never been questioned," he continued, noting that On My Skin was a one-off. "I leave the post after five years of hard work, commitment and passion that have helped to fulfill many goals." Occhipinti made note of the creation of MIA, bringing an audiovisual market back to Rome, reforming the David di Donatello awards and shepherding the new Cinema Law as advances during his time as head of film distributors at ANICA, but he argued that the main unsolved problem in Italy is still piracy. 

On My Skin, starring Alessandro Borghi, Jasmine Trinca and Massimiliano Tortora, tells the true life story of Stefano Cucchi, a man who died in horrible conditions in police captivity in Rome after being arrested for drug charges.

It was well-reviewed in Venice as a compelling police brutality drama. On roughly 80 screens, the film averaged approximately $2,700 per screen and came in overall at No. 9 in the weekly box office with $286,000 — impressive for the number of screens, particularly as it was a slow box-office weekend because Italians were out enjoying one of the last warm weekends of the year. 

On My Skin was at the center of a dispute before Venice when Italian distributors protested the day-and-date theatrical and streaming release of films shown in the festival. On My Skin was the opening film of Venice's Horizons section and was set to open in cinemas on Sept. 12, directly after the festival.

Italy's cinema exhibitors ANEC/ANEM said in a statement that they would take necessary action to protect their interests, declaring that day-and-date distribution seeks to benefit "exclusively the short-term interests of only one party, to the detriment of other actors," in a country already rife with piracy.

Italian filmmakers and exhibitors later slammed Venice as a "marketing vehicle" for Netflix after Alfonso Cuaron's ROMA won the Golden Lion and the Coen brothers' The Ballad of Buster Scruggs took home the best screenplay prize. While not diminishing the value of the films, the organizations, including ANAC, FICE and ACEC argued that the Biennale should be reserved only for films that are guaranteed to be seen in theaters around the world. 

Italy's own Minister of Culture Alberto Bonisoli weighed in, saying that artistic decisions at Venice are to remain with director Alberto Barbera, who is decidedly pro-Netflix. But ANICA president Francesco Rutelli hinted that more regulations could be on the way, from taxing the global streaming platform to increasing theatrical windows in Italy. “The matter is global and very important and by the first of January we will have to provide a regulation which could fix, amongst other things, investment obligations of the platforms,” said Rutelli. 

ANICA later responded to Occhipinti's resignation, saying in a statement, "it is not a matter of erecting barricades, but of helping to guide the transformations in the cinema and audiovisual production chain, in relations with theater owners, broadcasters and new platforms." It remains to be seen what steps they will take to appease both sides of the chain.