It is proving to be a very busy week for Italy's cultural minister, Giuliano Urbani: Today (Jan 15), he is expected to name ex-bank manager Davide Croff as the new president of the Biennale, the organization that runs the Venice Film Festival, and on Friday he will present to Parliament his long-awaited reform of Italy's cinema law.

Croff, who will replace outgoing president Franco Bernabe', is a former manager of Italian bank BNL, the only bank in the country to currently offer a credit line to local film production, as well as the ex-financial director of FIAT. He is currently president of the Venice music foundation Ugo and Olga Levi and is also on the board of the Santa Cecilia Rome music academy.

On Thursday, Urbani will also name the other new board members of the newly restructured and partly privatised Biennale, whose first task - and a major one it is too - will be to appoint a new artistic director for the Venice Film Festival. [Last week, the outgoing board voted to extend the contract of current Venice selector Moritz De Hadeln by three months "to ensure a smooth transition" with his successor.]

Urbani said the Biennale would appoint a new festival director in "complete autonomy."

"Of course, I have my ideas about the festival, but I shall not interfere," he said. "I appreciate the work that has been carried out by both De Hadeln and Bernabe' (who as a matter of fact asked me not to be reconfirmed as Biennale president), but the newly-restructured Biennale needs fresh human resources."

Meanwhile, In an interview with Rome daily Il Messaggero, Urbani said the long-awaited new cinema law would guarantee that government funding would be allocated in a "more transparent way", in line with the system used in France.

"There are two reasons behind the financial difficulties the film industry is currently faced with: firstly, in 1997, [former culture minister Walter] Veltroni doubled the maximum limit of government funds allocated to each film. State funds for distribution were also increased without any particular regulations," Urbani told Il Messaggero.

He added: "Between 2001 and mid-2002, 110 films received government funding. That figure is unequalled in the rest of Europe. The existing system has meant that funds for cinema have dried up."

Under Urbani's new law, the government will only fund up to 50% of an Italian film's budget, rather than the current 80%, while selection will be based on the production company's credentials, rather than an assessment of the screenplay. New provisions also include allowing other Italian banks, besides Bnl, to offer credit lines to local films.

But Urbani said: "This new law is only the start. We're working on a serious of provisions that will help the whole film sector, from introducing a tax shelter to developing companies that will invest in cinema, and establishing closer relations with banks."