EXCLUSIVE: Italian distributor Feltrinelli takes aim with LFF-winning documentary about paedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church and plans live debates with clergy.

When Italian national newspaper La Repubblica reviewed Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God, Alex Gibney’s LFF-winning documentary about paedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church, the paper’s critic wrote: “It is difficult to imagine the film will find a theatrical distributor in Italy, and it is even less likely to find one for TV.”

Step forward Italian outfit Feltrinelli, which has taken the bold step of picking up all Italian rights from sales outfit Content Media. The film is believed to be the first on the subject to get a theatrical release in the country.

According to Feltrinelli’s head of documentary distribution Anastasia Plazzotta, the company plans to release the film in spring 2013 in around 30 cities – including Verona, the location of the Church-run Antonio Provolo Institute, which is featured in Gibney’s film and where a number of deaf students have alleged sexual abuse – with live debates after the screenings between clergy, intellectuals and Gibney, schedule permitting.

Feltrinelli is hoping to screen the film and debates online before releasing a special edition DVD and book around a month after its theatrical run. It also expects a TV airing for the film.

“Adventurous” move

In an interview with Screen, Gibney described it as an “adventurous” move from Feltrinelli.

In the shadow of the Vatican, Italian media has largely shied away from the topic of paedophila within the church. In 2006, a BBC documentary titled The Vatican and Sexual Crimes generated a scandal and became an online sensation in the country, garnering millions of views.

But Gibney said that the problem is becoming increasingly talked about: “You’re starting to hear complaints more frequently and that will continue. Nobody can keep secrets, not even the Vatican. Look at Vatileaks, for example”.

Gibney confirmed that the Catholic Church was largely uncooperative with him during the making of the film:

“The church wasn’t receptive at all,” he said. “I had wanted to talk to a man in Rome who had formerly been Pope Ratzinger’s chief prosecutor but that was impossible. However, there were some key individuals we did reach.”

Ireland release

Last week, Element Pictures picked up Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God for distribution in Ireland and intends to release in around February 2013. The outfit is also in discussion with a local broadcaster.

“The film will really strike a chord with Irish audiences,” Element’s Andrew Lowe told Screen.

“It’s a sadly familiar story but this film brings a new dimension through considering the Vatican’s position.”

Last year, in an unprecedented attack, Ireland’s Taoiseach Enda Kenny severely criticized the Vatican for its handling of the sexual abuse of children in the Cork area. A report found that the Catholic Church’s handling of the allegations was poor or non-existent.

Gibney’s documentary has also been picked up by Madman Entertainment in Australia, where a major scandal erupted this year after the Catholic Church in the state of Victoria confirmed that more than 600 children have been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s.

UK rights have yet to be confirmed. HBO will release in the US on Nov 16.