Italian production outfit Cattleya is set to receive two major tranches of investment from one of Italy's leading financial groups, San Paolo IMI Private Equity, and multimedia giant De Agostini.

The company said it would use the cash injection to ramp up production to about eight or 10 features a year. Cattleya's Giovanni Stabilini said: "What attracted these partners to us is our unusual approach to production by Italian standards. Where most companies cannot produce more than one or two films a year, our goal is to distribute much more product."

Cattleya is currently shooting an English-language title, directed by Serbia's Goran Paskaljevic, How Harry Became A Tree, and is also prepping Franco Zeffirelli's Callas Forever, set to star opera singer Teresa Stratas as Maria Callas, for Italian mini-major Medusa. Projects for 2001 include Ripley's Game, which Cattleya will executive produce for Fine Line; a biopic on feminist author Sibille Alerama, to be directed by Italy's Michele Placido; and new projects from Marco Tullio Giordana (The Hundred Steps) and Cristina Comencini (Liberate I Pesci, Matrimoni).

Founded in 1997 by veteran producer Riccardo Tozzi, Cattleya stepped up production last year when Tozzi left his position as head of production at Mediaset to dedicate himself to the company. Giovanni Stabilini, former general director of Mediaset, and Marco Chimenz, vice president of Fininvest's film arm, Medusa, are co-partners.

De Agostini's partnership with Cattleya is its second foray into the film industry. At Venice, it launched Albachiara with leading Italian distributor Mikado and production outfit Lumiere. Aimed at producing high-quality films that can successfully compete with medium-budget US movies, Albachiara is currently preparing award-winning director Giuseppe Piccioni's Luce Dei Miei Occhi and a new project from Italian darling Silvio Soldini (Bread And Tulips).