The baroque Italian town of Lecce in Puglia became the centre of the international film business for one hot weekend in late June as Italian sales agents screened 30 new films and talked up and coming projects with some 90 buyers from 27 countries at the 19th edition of the three-day Italian Screenings.
Participants attending are required to adhere to strict confidentiality regulations.
“We are talking about productions that will be unveiled between September and October, films that start to develop value as Venice starts to send out invites, followed by Toronto and Rome,” says Carla Cattani, who heads the international promotion of contemporary Italian cinema at Cinecittà, which organised the event. “Until this moment, the market has been unaware of these productions. For these films, all of which are a certain type of independent Italian cinema, it is their first tentative venture into the market.”
The buyers were treated to candle-lit dinners held in the cloisters of a historical library, a farmhouse and the medieval Abbey of Santa Maria di Cerrate under the gaze of a series of Byzantine frescos. Attendees came from companies including Denmark’s Camera Film, the UK’s Curzon, Turkey’s Filmarti, France’s Diaphana Distribution, Greece’s Rosebud, Serbia’s MCF and Lebanon’s Moving Turtle.
Sales agents in Lecce included Vision Distribution, Fandango, Intramovies, True Colours, Adriana Chiesa – ACEK, and Coccinelle Films. Also taking part was The Match Factory, whose founder and managing director Michael Weber is based in Rome.
Buyers to whom Screen has spoken say the quality of the films was impressively high.
“[There was] a great and satisfying variety of Italian films, from new work by established auteurs to debuts and second features by up-and-coming new talent,” says Eleonora Pesci, acquisitions executive at Curzon. “There were quality titles, whether fully Italian or Italian co-productions, that are expected to premiere in high profile festivals in the coming months.”
“It is very helpful to have an early idea of what the market will be in Venice with regards to the Italian-produced films,” said Sakis Tsitomeneas of Athens-based Rosebud. “It gives you a heads-up, knowing a big part of the product before the festival begins.”
”The common theme for the films was their quality,” confirmed MCF CEO Igor Stanković, who was attending the event for the 10th time.
“We were spoilt for choice on the film side, as all the sellers were present and the hospitality was first rate,” adds Camera Film’s Kim Foss. “The Screenings gives us a chance to spend quality time with the people you buy from and also gives us, the distributors, the perfect setting for unrushed sharing and comparing in terms of what worked, what didn’t, and why.”
Location, location, location
Cinecitta hosts the Screenings in different towns around Italy to showcase the picturesque backdrops as potential locations. Previous editions have been held in Perugia, Siena, Naples and Bari.
“Attendees live in a little micro-universe. They do business at breakfast, they talk in the hotel, go to work by foot, have a lovely lunch,” explains Cattani of the productive environment she strives to create. “They live together for three, four days, immersed in what is a pure, undiluted market, without the festival glitter.”
Cécile Salin, acquisitions manager at France’s Diaphana Distribution, confirms this. “It was great for networking,” she says.
For the Italian sales companies, it can be the most important event of the year.
“It is the moment we have access to a variety of different buyers that are focused specifically on Italian products,” explains Giulia Casavecchia, head of sales at True Colours. “It is also a convivial networking event which allows new contacts to be formed that then become important and functional relationships in support of the work we do all year round.”
“It’s a very important event in our annual calendar, of fundamental importance for our cinema industry because it allows sellers and buyers to meet in an informal context which is behind closed doors,” agrees Micaela Fusco, head of international sales at Intramovies and president of UNEFA, the union of international sales agents of Italy. The latter draws up the lists of international buyers invited to the screenings.
“This year, as in the past, it went very well, even if the moment is difficult and distributors are still cautious,” Fusco adds.
“Those present are the top, best selected buyers of independent Italian products, those that pay attention to Italian quality cinema,” reports Adriana Chiesa, who was present both in the role of producer as well as with ACEK, the distribution company she founded. “Being together, including for lunch and dinner every day, consolidates relationships.”
Coccinelle Films founder Francesca Breccia says more buyers and sellers were present this year compared to pre-Covid times, adding “you can see they are intent and active on focusing on the Italian product.”
Tohme says he is “in negotiations to acquire a couple of films”, while Rosebud’s Tsitomeneas is in talks over two screened titles.
“I didn’t buy anything on the spot, which doesn’t mean I won’t get involved once I see how the films play at the festivals,” says Camera Film’s Foss.
“I perceived a positive attitude from most buyers,” says Nexo Digital’s Rosella Gioffre. “Compared to last year and to the Cannes market, I feel the event showed an increasing attention and availability towards our titles, as well as an interest in investing again.”
As of early August, the Italian Screenings has generated 90 sales agreements this year, not calculating those completed for the airline industry, with another 60 in negotiations, according to data released by Cinecitta. In 2019, the last year in which a full physical event took place, the Italian Screenings generated some 100 sales agreements.
A digital leg of the edition titled Italian Screenings Online extended invites to some 200 buyers to view online screenings on Festivalscope from July 4-7 after the June 30-July 3 physical event in Lecce had wrapped up.
People really enjoyed it,” Cattani says of the hot Lecce weekend. “We received some thank-you letters that brought tears to my eyes.”