Walter Vacchino, head of Italy's association of exhibitors, has voiced concern about the upcoming summer film season in Italy.

"We are pleased that distributors are planning to release several Italian films during the summer - but we're very worried about the overall situation after examining distributors' upcoming slates, particularly for the month of July," Vacchino said.

"Anec is closely monitoring the releases of films in July and August in other European countries, because we believe it's unacceptable for Italy to be discriminated against in terms of quality of films, particularly given the good results summer releases had in previous years as well as the amount exhibitors are investing to be able to offer the public high quality cinemas that are comfortable [i.e. air-conditioned] during the summer," he said.

He added gloomily: "It's always very difficult to predict the success of films, but there are ways of getting a fairly precise idea on paper - by looking at the film's cast, the director, the effort that has gone into the production. . . and given the information that is currently available, there doesn't seem to be an adequate number of big titles [this summer]."

"Another bad sign is the fact that some films, which had already been slated for a summer release in Italy, will not be released until the autumn," he added.

The Italian industry was disappointed when UIP recently postponed the release of its potential blockbuster, The Hulk, from July 4th to August 29, due to "promotion licensing problems."

"If you have, say, Hulk hamburgers or fries that are only going to be available in Italy in August, we unfortunately cannot release the film in July," explained UIP's Cristina Casati.

Nevertheless, UIP, which kickstarted Italy's year-round releasing pattern with its 2000 summer hit Mission Impossible:2 - hopes to have another potential summer blockbuster up its sleeve. "We will be releasing 2 Fast 2 Furious on June 20th," Casati told [In 2001, The Fast And The Furious grossed Euros 1.9m in Italy].

However, Giampaolo Sodano, head of national distributors union UNIDIM, was more optimistic than Vacchino about the current situation.

"The quality of the films on release this summer is high, and there is a wide range of titles. It's true, there is a lack of 'big' pictures, but we shouldn't underestimate the films we do have," Sodano said in a statement. " I'm also happy that some important Italian pictures are due to be released during the summer."

Italian pictures currently slated for a summer release include Renzo Martinelli's Five Moons Square and Paolo Virzi's My Name Is Tanino.

Planned summer releases from US majors include Buena Vista's Waking Up In Reno, starring Charlize Theron and Patrick Swayze (May 23rd) and Bruce Almighty with Jim Carrey and Jennifer Aniston (May 30th); and 20th Century Fox's Antwone Fisher (May 23rd), 28 Days Later (June 13th) and Phone Booth (June 27th).

"We are waiting for some of the films that have been announced to come out in the US so that we can demonstrate with numbers the value of some titles which seem inferior on paper to the ones we've had in the past," Sodano said, adding: "But there is still time to add new titles to the list of summer releases."