Italy’s other wine country ups film profile

ROME — After hosting the 2006 Winter Olympics, Turin and Piedmont got on a metaphoric ski jump and launched a public/private film fund that may land the northern Italian region a gold medal.

The city of big boulevards, where Italy’s first blockbuster, the 1914 Roman epic “Cabiria,” was made, Turin has long been aching to regain status as a moviemaking hub, especially since the demise of automaker Fiat, which once gave it cachet as the country’s automaking capital.

Starting last month, regional funds and equity coin from L.A.-based Endgame Entertainment have been combined to set up Piedmont Film Co., a $32 million “mixed” fund which, while relatively small, has the definite advantage of a direct Hollywood link.

“It’s a unique model,” says Giulia Marletta, the fund’s promoter. “On the one hand, you have a public entity in the region that has an interest in investing widely and creating a strong economy in film and TV production.

“On the other, you have private investors who have an interest in financing product that will be profitable in the international marketplace.”

Endgame — whose titles include “Hotel Rwanda” and upcoming Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There” — is putting up $20 million of the five-year revolving fund, with most of the rest of the coin coming from Piedmont’s public coffers.

To be eligible, projects must be in the $5 million to $25 million range, with 75% of their financing in place, casting contractualized and 25% of the budget earmarked for spending in Piedmont. The key criterion for selection is international audience appeal potential. The first batch of pics will be greenlit in the fall.

Though the region comprises the dazzling Dolomites, Barolo vineyards, medieval castles and palatial villas, Piedmont/Turin film commish topper Stefano Della Casa has no illusions that productions can be lured merely by its visuals.

“If an Italian production comes to me and says: ‘I’d really like to shoot in Piedmont, but Bulgaria is cheaper,’ I can come back to them and keep them here by investing a few hundred thousand euros in their movie drawn from another fund I have for modestly budgeted local films,” he says.

“But when it comes to higher-profile pictures, there is this new financial tool which is geared primarily — though not exclusively — towards American productions.”

Lately, Piedmont has managed to lure a nice flow of Italo pics, including horrormeister Dario Argento‘s “La terza madre” (Mother of Tears) and Giuliano Montaldo‘s recently wrapped “St. Petersburg” epic, which used Turin as a stand-in for the Russian city. Marco Tullio Giordana‘s Fascist-era drama “Crazy Blood” will digitally transform Turin into Milan onscreen, and Carlo Lizzani’s WWII drama “Hotel Meina” is shooting on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

“I don’t even care about Turin being recognizable in a movie as long as I’m creating some jobs and fostering the industry here,” Della Casa says.

Turin actually has a strong reputation for animation, with 50% of Italo toons produced there by companies such as Lanterna Magica, maker of toon feature “Aida of the Trees,” and the city’s high-tech Lumiq Studios, which also sports live-action stages and post-production gear.

The Piedmont commish also works in tandem with the Turin Film Museum, a venerable cinematic shrine housed in the historic Mole Antonelliana, and with the Turin Film Fest, under new artistic topper Nanni Moretti.

Still, it remains to be seen whether inventive enterprise and Alpine allure will add up to a burst of Piedmont-shot pics playing for global auds.

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