Taking a lesson from the French industry, Italian producers are lining up a string of big budget features in a bid to wow local and international audiences.

Cast an eye over many of Italy's forthcoming films and one things stands out: despite the financial woes of the local industry, a slew of big budget, commercially-oriented projects are in the pipeline, driven by internationally astute producers.

In fact, so many large scale films are in production, that some are beginning to question whether small budget, director-led films - for so long the staple of the Italian industry - are on the back foot.

"People have realised that if you want to make a film for a wide audience, you have to make bigger financial investments in these projects. The fact that other European film industries, such as France, have obtained good results by raising budgets of individual films, has led the Italian industry to follow suit," says Giorgio Gosetti, director of Italian promotional body, Italia Cinema.

And the budgets of Italian films are increasing significantly. While the average budget of a local picture, until recently, hovered around the Euros 1.5m mark, a host of upcoming films have budgets that range from Euros 2.5m to a high of Euros 18m.

Examples include hot Italian director Edoardo Winspeare's $2.5m new film, The Miracle and Caterina Va In Citta, a new comedy from Paolo Virzi, produced by Cattleya and Rai Cinema with a budget of Euros 4m.

Also in the pipeline are: Non Ti Muovere, a drama co-produced by Spain's Alquimia, and Italy's Medusa and Cattleya, budgeted at Euros 5m; Ermanno Olmi's upcoming Lakeshore-Mikado-Rai Cinema drama Cantando Dietro I Paraventi (one of the first films to be boarded by a US producer at pre-production stage), budgeted at Euros 9m; Renzo Martinelli's $10m Piazza Of The Five Moons and Gianni Amelio's highly-anticipated new film, The Keys To The House, with a budget of $6m.

With their eyes set on more ambitious projects, producers have been forced to look further afield to tie up the financing on their movies, particularly given the cash-strapped situation of local entities such as Telepiu, which used to be a major financier of Italian films.

Veteran Italian producer Leo Pescarolo recently announced that he sealed two landmark multi-million dollar international co-production deals with China and Canada.

Pescarolo's deals on Money Flies and She (see separate story) are particularly interesting in that they reflect what many industry insiders consider to be a renewal of producer-driven films.

"The situation is changing," says Chimenz. "If you look at most of the films that have been produced recently in Italy, they are producer-driven pictures, rather than auteur films. Producers have started developing screenplays with scriptwriters and only bring in the director at script stage, or even later."