Italy Culture Czar Wants More Support for Arts, Cinema

In a parliamentary address, Massimo Bray announced an ambitious set of priorities but did not mention the Rome Film Fest, which asked for his help.

ROME – Italy’s newly-installed Minister of Culture said his priorities in office will include strengthening government funding for the arts, including a renewal of the cinema tax credit industry players have been calling for.

Massimo Bray, 54, a former academic publisher, magazine editor, and blogger, took over as minister of culture in the new government led by Enrico Letta April 28. He had kept a low profile until surfacing at the Cannes Film Festival this week, followed by remarks Friday to a joint parliamentary committee on culture, in which he also said the government would play a role in converting cinemas in small towns to digital, widening the scope of the ministry from the film industry to include productions for television and the Internet, and stepping up the fight against piracy.

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Bray also said he wanted to create a better rating system for films to protect minors from potentially offensive content, make it easier for new cinemas to open and come up with incentives for communities to use local resources to promote the film industry.

Many of Bray’s priorities aligned with those outlined by industry leaders a month ago in an informal survey from The Hollywood Reporter in which they listed the renewal of the cinema industry tax credit as the top priority. The fight against piracy and the conversion of rural cinemas to digital were also mentioned as key challenges.

The cinema sector is just one part of the job for Bray, whose mandate also includes oversight of the country's thousands of museums and historical sites, other cultural platforms including dance, music, and theater, and the country’s massive tourism sector.

In his remarks he did mention some issues that touched upon separate parts of his mandate, including the development of synergies between audiovisual productions and tourism: “The aim is promoting the image of Italy through Italian cinema, and, above all, through the use of international cinema shoots in Italy.”

One area Bray did not mention was whether the ministry would offer a hand to the International Rome Film Festival. The ambitious eight-year-old festival concluded a round of stakeholder meetings last week in which it asked Bray’s ministry for help in bridging a budget shortfall that could be as large as €2 million ($2.6 million).

Bray gave a few examples of how the cash-strapped ministry will pay for the reforms he mentioned, including a possible levy on entities that benefit from content the cinema and television industry supplies, such as telecommunications companies and Internet content aggregators. He also said he would like to see increased trans-Atlantic partnerships that could yield income. He also said that fighting piracy and opening new cinemas would create more income for the sector.

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Bray noted that government support for the arts, including cinema, has declined from around €530 million ($684 million) in 2001 to €390 million ($503 million) today, a reduction even more stark when viewed as a percentage of gross domestic product. He said arts funding was 0.083 percent of GDP in 1985 and was only 0.029 percent in 2011. But to reverse the trend, he suggested a system of tax incentives like the tax credit rather than cash payments.

He mentioned the digitization as the second key area in need of help: he said that 25 to 30 percent of Italian cinemas were in danger of being “cut off from showing most modern productions” if they did not convert to digital, something they lacked the resources to do on their own. “This would have very serious consequences for the spread of cinema, especially in small towns,” the minister said.

Twitter: @EricJLyman