Italian Industry Players Discuss Challenges for New Culture Minister

Entertainment sector representatives weigh in on what they think should be the top priorities for Massimo Bray.

ROME – Few of the ministers appointed to their posts by newly-installed Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta were familiar to Italians when they were selected to form a government charged with extracting Italy from its protracted political and economic crisis. But among the newest in a group of new faces was Massimo Bray, the country’s new minister of culture.

The 54-year-old Bray, a well-regarded former academic publisher and magazine editor best known for his blog on the Italian-language version of the Huffington Post, is charged with leading a ministry that in Italy has a sprawling mandate. His responsibilities include overseeing the country’s thousands of museums and historical sites as well as Italy's massive tourism sector, plus promoting all cultural platforms, ranging from dance to music and from theater to cinema.

Bray and the rest of the Letta government take over at a difficult time in Italy, with a prolonged economic malaise taking its toll on every corner of the country, including the cinema sector, which is at risk of contracting for the third consecutive year in 2013.

In recent years, the profile in the cinema industry for Italy’s Ministry of Culture has risen dramatically: In 2008, controversial then-minister Sandro Bondi earned headlines by boycotting Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival when it screened Il Sol del’avvenire (Red Sun), a documentary he said glorified Italy’s Red Brigade extremist group. Two years later, Bondi boycotted Cannes for its selection of films critical of the government of Silvio Berlusconi, and a few months later said the ministry should have a say in picking the main jury at the Venice Film Festival after jury president Quentin Tarantino sparked a controversy for awarding the festival’s main prize to Somewhere from Sofia Coppola, Tarantino's former girlfriend.

More recently, the Turin Film Festival asked now-outgoing Minister Lorenzo Ornaghi to intervene last year after the International Rome Film Festival under former Venice artistic director Marco Mueller moved its spot on the calendar to a spot just a week before Turin’s dates. Orhagi criticized Rome’s move, but stopped short of calling on the event to move back to its traditional spot on the calendar.

But ask industry players today, and they say they want Bray to play a much more traditional role as minister -- they want tax breaks and help in combating piracy.

The Hollywood Reporter questioned more than a dozen leading industry figures about what they saw as the leading challenges and priorities for the ministry under Bray and every respondent, without exception, listed the renewal of the industry tax credit as a top priority.

The tax credit provides up to €5 million ($6.6 million) per qualifying film to help offset production costs in Italy, or up to €3.5 million ($4.6 million) for Italian co-productions, with other benefits for distributors and exhibitors. The measure is set to expire at the end of this year, and could be a casualty of the cash-strapped government’s belt-tightening efforts. Cinema industry players say that would be a big mistake.

“The first priority has to be the tax credit,” said Nicola De Angelis, vice-president of development and international co-productions for the De Angelis Group. “The new minister finds himself in a very difficult situation, and the hope is that he can move rapidly to find solutions, but the tax credit must be renewed in order to attract foreign capital in our industry.”

Andrea Occhipinti of Lucky Red said the tax credit should be renewed long-term and not just every three years as it is now, while Bruno Zambardino, a Sapienza University film professor and contributor to the Roselli Foundation public policy think tank went even further: “Ideally, the tax cedit would be transformed into a permanent entitlement to create a stable situation for potential international investors,” Zambardino said.

“Investment in the cinema sector has to be maintained, not cut back,” said Fulvio Lucisano, the head of Italian International Film. “Other countries, like France, continue to invest in their film sector and Italy will fall behind if it acts differently.”

Other respondents -- including statements from the 100autori (100 Authors) association, and from Ricardo Tozzi, president of the ANICA, the Italian audiovisual association -- called for other financial measures, whether reorganizing the way funding from the government’s coffers is allocated (Tozzi suggested moving funding for the National Film School and Cinecitta Luce archives to a different budget) to a reinstatement of money lost to recent rounds of budget cutbacks (100autori said overall governments support has been reduced by a fifth).

The second most frequently mentioned priority among those questioned was the issue of piracy. Ital has been criticized in recent weeks for doing too little to combat piracy efforts because of what legal experts say is a necessary balance between intellectual property issues and privacy concerns.

“Privacy is the top issue if the goal is to help the whole audiovisual sector and promote local production,” said Lucky Red’s Occhipinti. “Anyone can watch almost any film on the internet for free. It’s against the law, but nothing is done. Addressing this creates almost no costs for the state, but will bring about big earnings from new taxes and new jobs.”

Lionello Cerri, president of ANEC, Italy’s cinema exhibitor association, agreed: “We absolutely must have a more determined approach in the fight against audiovisual piracy,” he said.

Other suggestions varied widely: Zambardino called for the allocation of resources to help small cinemas make the switch to digital and for the introduction of media education in schools, for example, while De Angelis called for changes to labor laws that will help Italian film production be more competitive internationally and Lucisano said the film production bureaucracy should be dramatically streamlined. 

Twitter: @EricJLyman