An Italian film without theatrical distribution entitled Il Natale Rubato (The Stolen Christmas) has become a sensation, after it emerged that the self-financed picture has already racked up a massive 500,000 admissions in Italy on an "underground" exhibition circuit.

While a recent report revealed that 30 Italian films are currently in limbo, either searching for a distributor or waiting to be released, Pino Tordiglione, a 46-year-old first time director, has been screening Il Natale Rubato across Italy to members of church parishes, gym clubs, volunteer associations and even sanctuaries with the support of a nationwide association that represents small Italian towns.

"I didn't have any other choice if I wanted my dream to come true," Tordiglione, a veteran TV documentary-maker says of the film, which he financed for around Euros 325,000.

Il Natale Rubato tells the tale of a sick little girl, whose poor father, a widower, is prepared to go to any lengths to save his daughter. Eventually, he steals his village's only valuable object, a Nativity Manger.

Tordiglione had originally applied for public funding from the Italian government's Fondo di Garanzia, but the commission rejected his project.

Instead, the director used his savings to shoot the film over two years near Naples with a cast largely made up of non-professional actors from Tordiglione's home town.

Tortiglione says the finished film was rejected by the Venice Film Festival and by Italian state broadcaster RAI.

Since then, Il Natale Rubato has been re-edited by The Last Emperor's Oscar-winning editor, Gabriella Cristiani, but has still not found an Italian distributor.

The film was distributed by Tortiglione four months ago on 30 prints, with the help of national association Piccoli Comuni.