Italian publishing giant De Agostini has taken a majority stake in local arthouse production and distribution outfit Mikado Film, which recently co-produced Otar Iosseliani's Lundi Matin and released Jill Sprecher's 13 Conversations About One Thing.

The move, which represents De Agostini's third major venture in the Italian film industry in the last 18 months, will significantly boost Mikado's buying clout in the international market-place and enable the 20-year-old arthouse distributor to secure a strong European and US slate.

For Mikado, the deal is particularly opportune, as it comes at a time when local distributors have been challenged by a virtual freeze in local free and pay-TV rights acquisitions for feature films.

De Agostini's long-term deal with Mikado involves the transfer of shares from Luigi Musini and Roberto Cicutto, Mikado's founding partners, to De Agostini as well as an increase in the arthouse company's capital of between Euros 20m to 40m.

Roberto Cicutto and Luigi Musini will continue to run Mikado, with Musini acting as CEO.

Cicutto underlined that the company will maintain its autonomy and continue scouting for indie films and new talents, but will also get involved in more international co-productions.

In September 2000, De Agostini became a founding member of Albachiara, a company created with Mikado and local production company Lumiere, which produced Silvio Soldini's Burning in the Wind and Giuseppe Piccioni's recent Light of My Eyes.

Last year, De Agostini also took a stake in Cattleya, Riccardo Tozzi's start-up Rome production house whose new films include Cristina Comencini's The Best Day Of My Life, and Franco Zeffirelli's Callas Forever.

"This deal reinforces our presence in the local film industry, and allows us to also become involved through Mikado in distribution and exhibition," said Maurizio Carlotti, CEO of De Agostini and ex-head of Fininvest rights-trading division, Mediatrade.

Mikado, which was founded in 1984 and has distributed over 300 films, also holds a 20% stake in Circuito Cinema, an exhibitor which has 80 screens throughout Italy, 15% of e-Mik, a company which sells videos over the internet, and 50% of Cinemaundici, a consortium which produced Ermanno Olmi's Profession Of Arms.