The Italian film industry is bracing itself for a breakthrough summer at cinemas nationwide, after local distributors officially agreed to reverse the pattern of previous years and release 60 films on 1,500 screens between May 15 and July 31.

Among the summer releases to hit cinemas - one third of which will be multiplexes - are the big-hitters Star Wars: Episode 2 and Spider Man, Richard Linklater's Waking Life, John Woo's Windtalkers and Walter Salles's Behind The Sun.

The move marks a dramatic change from last year, when most distributors shied away from releasing any pictures at all. Lack of government support they claimed ensured that summer releasing still wasn't profitable enough to change the habits of exhibitors who have always shut down their non-air conditioned cinemas during the summer.

Virtually all local distributors have signed on to the summer schedule, in contrast to the last two years when US studios more or less stood alone in the initiative.

Nevertheless, concerns are now growing that the initiative is not receiving enough support from the government. Alberto Francesconi, head of the national exhibitors association ANEC, complains that the culture ministry has so far failed to launch a promotional campaign, yet "Italians have to know that this year, the movies will not be going on holiday."

Giampaolo Sodano, head of national distributors union UNIDIM, also underlined that "changing the deeply rooted habits of Italians requires more than a last-minute promotional campaign."

Last month, the government launched a "Culture Week" with half-price cinema tickets. But critics charged that the government's last-minute promotional campaign caused the initiative to flop so badly that most exhibitors were forced to sell tickets at their regular Euros 5.50 - 7.50 price.