Italian exhibitors have formally complained to the MPAA, distributors and the Italian government about the lack of big pictures that are to be released in Italy this summer - and warned that the situation will damage future growth prospects of the local industry.

In a letter published by local trade paper Il Giornale dello Spettacolo, exhibitors complained: "Despite efforts to improve technology and services, distributors are going to be releasing films that will have a hard time attracting an audience this summer, rather than big titles which have the potential to become hits."

Distributors' summer slates currently include Italian political thriller Five Moons Square (May 9th), local comedy My Name Is Tanino, and Waking Up In Reno (May 23rd), Bruce Almighty (May 30th); Antwone Fisher (May 23rd), 28 Days Later (June 13th), 2 Fast 2 Furious (June 20th) and Phone Booth (June 27th).

Representatives of national exhibition body ANEC and multiplex organisation ANEM requested an urgent meeting with MPAA president Jack Valenti at next month's Cannes Film Festival, to discuss the present situation.

They warned: "Unless the distribution schedule is drastically modified, it will be difficult for Italy to increase the number of tickets currently sold during the year (100 million-110 million) and reach the numbers sold in France (182 million), the UK (167 million), Germany (154 million) and Spain (138 million).

Exhibitors argued that various big-hitting pictures, such as Terminator 3, Tomb Raider 2 and Sean Connery vehicle League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen will be released in other European territories during the summer - but not in Italy.

"It is therefore unlikely that the Italian industry can repeat the success which Spider Man had last summer, when it earned Euros 19m and became the fourth highest-grossing movie of the year in Italy," they said.

The exhibitors said they are now seeking a concrete plan to increase ticket sales by spreading out releases more evenly throughout the year. "We want more respect for the big efforts we have made," they said, referring to the race to build multiplexes ( adding15 in 2001, bringing the total to 51), modernise existing theatres, and keep them open throughout the summer.