Cinecitta Studios, located on the southeastern outskirts of Rome, celebrates its 70th anniversary this month. And with a reputation built on more than 3,000 films, cinema legends and Oscar-winning craftsmen, Cinecitta's board of directors is determined to stay ahead of its international competitors.

Over the years, Cinecitta has handled films ranging from Ben Hur and Cleopatra to recent high-profile productions such as Martin Scorsese's Gangs Of New York and Mel Gibson's The Passion Of The Christ.

'Since the Second World War, the US has known Cinecitta can handle big productions,' says general manager Lamberto Mancini from his offices adjacent to Federico Fellini's famed Studio 5. 'Even if we have four months to construct sets like (the HBO/BBC series) Rome, we're on time.'

Since the 75% privatisation in 1997 (buyers included Aurelio De Laurentiis and Vittorio Cecchi Gori) Cinecitta has also expanded from its original headquarters on Via Tuscolana, buying rivals Dino Studios in Rome and Umbria's Papigno Studios (renamed Cinecitta Umbria), located 100km north west of Rome.

More recently, Cinecitta looked abroad, taking a 30% stake in the CLA Studios in Ouarzazate, Morocco, just a two-hour flight from Rome. Catherine Hardwicke's The Nativity Story shot at both Cinecitta in Rome and at CLA.

'We really think we must provide something big for the US customer. If you consider the North American distances, a two-hour flight to Morocco from Rome is not much,' Mancini says.

Back on the home front, Cinecitta maintains a strong interest in supporting national film legislation. 'My job is to convince the right people - politicians, government, whomever - that (the way) to attract international productions is to have a clear, easy incentive,' Mancini says. 'I work day and night so that one day I can go to Los Angeles and say, 'Dear producer, this is the Italian incentive - come and shoot in Italy.''

But in typically determined fashion, Mancini, insists: 'Money is around, there are many ways to collect financing, the difference is that it's not marketed in a clear, marketable incentive.'

'We're cheaper than Germany, France and the UK'
International producers shooting at Cinecitta can access co-production finance by pacting with local producers, as was the case with Canadian Francois Girard's Silk, which was co-produced by Domenico Procacci's Rome-based Fandango with Canadian-Japanese-UK partners.

Cinecitta Umbria offers service advances while filming there (as happened with Krzysztof Zanussi's Black Sun) allowing productions to close their budgets and pay for studio services once the film sees revenues. Financing will also potentially be available through the forthcoming Rome/Lazio film commission fund.

'I've done price comparisons and we're cheaper than Germany, France and the UK,' Mancini suggests. He points to the fact Cinecitta lured Rome away from the UK, even without obvious incentives. He recognises that it 'costs less to use a sound stage in Bulgaria', but stresses the Italian industry is still decades ahead in terms of facilities and technical expertise.

The studios have 250 year-round employees, and facilities ranging from digital and post-production services, a film processing and printing lab; restoration and conservation facilities; audio post-production and set construction - arguably Cinecitta's speciality.

Abel Ferrara's Go Go Tales, which screens in Cannes this year, recently wrapped at the studios.