2004 began with a serious case of deja vu, as a questionmark once again hung in the air over who would head up the Venice filmfestival.

In April, the Italian government ousted Venice artisticdirector Moritz de Hadeln, and picked the popular Marco Mueller. But despite arich selection and a glitzier line-up of stars than the Lido had seen indecades, Mueller's race against time to organise the 61st edition wouldalso be remembered for the event's lengthy delays and ticketing chaos.

Meanwhile, it proved to be a twilight year for Mifed, whosevisitors wandered around semi-deserted halls wondering how organisers will pulloff their latest plan for the market next year to travel between Milan and theVenice film festival, and avoid any further confrontation with the AmericanFilm Market and its new autumn slot.

It has also been a tough year for the Italian film industry,which called a self-described 'labour dispute' warning that thejobs of 200,000 people who work for 15,000 companies in the entertainment sectorare at risk due to a lack of efficient government support.

Overheard this year

'The [piracy] problem has always been underestimatedin Italy. I first started chasing pirate copies of films 12 years ago. But thenI got a phone call from two investigating judges who told me to stopinvestigating or I'd probably be killed by the Mafia as it was such ahuge business.' Aurelio De Laurentiis, head of Italian producers unionUNPF, as Italy admitted to having the worst levels of piracy in the westernworld.

'In a Formula One race, cars have to make a stop inthe pit lane, so that you can change their tyres and fill them up with petrol.That's what's happened here. We had to stop for a bit, to changethe tyres and improve the entire cinema law.' Gianni Profita, head of thegovernment's film department, on why producers were still waiting forfrozen state funds months after the new cinema law had been approved. Profitahas since been replaced by Gaetano Blandini and producers are still awaitingfrozen funds.

'I am not happy. I am furious. First they ruinme and then they say I haven't done anything wrong'' VittorioCecchi Gori, whose production, distribution and exhibition empire crumbled fouryears ago amid a whirlwind of bad debt and corruption charges - after hewas cleared of laundering money.

Breakthrough talent

Former Italian champion swimmer Raoul Bova has establishedan adoring fan base in Italy for his roles as an action hero in local TV drama.After starring in Turkish-Italian director Ferzan Ozpetek's 2003 featurefilm, Facing Windows, Bova made aninternational leap in 2004. He has since starred in Under the TuscanSun, and played the lead in AlienVs Predator.

Box office snapshot

Highest-grossing film: LOTR: The Return Of The King (Medusa Film) $30.4m

Highest-grossing arthouse film: Fahrenheit 9/11 (Bim Distribuzione) $11.9m

Highest-grossing local film: Don't Move (Medusa Film) $11.2m