Italy is to launch its firstever promotional Festa del Cinema today, in the hope of boosting admissionswhich have been sliding rapidly since January.

The Festa del Cinema willenable spectators who buy one full-priced ticket between April 25, a national bankholiday, and April 28, to buy subsequent tickets for the price of Euro 1.50.Tickets in Italy normally cost between Euros 6.50-7.50.

Walter Vacchino, head ofnational exhibitors union ANEC said he hopes the initiative, which wasintroduced along the lines of France's 20 year-old Fete du Cinema, will helplure Italians back to the cinema.

According todata released by Cinetel, the local box office has suffered an 11.5% drop inearnings between January and April 18 this year, compared to the same period in2004. Admissions have tumbled more than 12%.

Distributors andexhibitors pointed to the fact that Italy is currently in the throes of ageneral economic crisis which is also affecting the film industry.

Vacchino alsosuggested that recent events of a huge magnitude have polarised the Italianpublic's attention, such as the kidnapping in Iraq of Italian journalistGiuliana Sgrena, the death of Pope John Paul II and the public tide of emotionthat followed, the election of a new Pope, and political elections and crises.

The Italiangovernment has set aside Euros 800,000 to sponsor the three-day Festa delCinema and a subsequent campaign to promote the summer season.

This yearrepresents the first time Italy has fully committed to a 12-month box officeseason.

Instead of the usual trickleof films that are distributed between May and August, Italy will this year havearound 80 summer releases.

In addition to blockbusterssuch as Kingdom Of Heaven, Star Wars Episode 3, and The War of the Worlds, distributors will also release 19 Italian films, includingGabriele Salvatores's anticipated new film, Quo Vadis Baby' and a number of arthouse titles.