The Italian box office is growing at a healthy rate, says Richard Borg, the newly-appointed head of Italy's national distributors union, UNIDIM, describing as "inaccurate" previously released data showing that industry figures had dipped in the first semester of 2003.

Earlier this week, Cinetel data showed that ticket sales had dipped 0.12 percent between January 1 and June 30 2003 compared to the same period last year. However, Cinetel only surveys 75 percent of cinemas around Italy - and it's the cinemas it didn't count which make all the difference, Borg argued.

Borg said Cinetel did not consider data from around 15 new multiplexes which opened in 2003 and 10 newly-refurbished single screen cinemas in its year-on-year comparison. "However, an analysis of data gathered from all the cinemas in the country, including ones built in 2003,show that admissions actually grew 4.4% and box office takings increased 7.4% in the first semester," Borg told Screen International.

Borg said UNIDIM has been discussing the data problems with Cinetel, of which it owns 50 percent. National exhibitors union ANEC owns the other 50 percent.

In the meantime, Borg said: "The Italian market is a very good market. It is already almost at the level of France and Spain."

Gino Zagari, managing director of national multiplex association ANEM, agreed that the local film industry's growth prospects are sound: "Right now, there are around 111m spectators in Italy. By 2005, we predict there will be over 150m spectators."

However, both Zagari and Borg emphasised that in order to carry on growing, the market has to continue building new screens. "Today, there are around 3,000 screens in Italy. But in a country of 56 million inhabitants, we need between 4,500 and 5,000 screens," Borg said.

Regarding reports of another sluggish summer season, Borg said reports had been exaggerated but that distributors "have to be more willing to be convinced to release titles during the summer."

"It's not a problem of the market - it's a problem of product and the availability of big titles," he said.