Italy's Eagle Pictures, which recently received substantial acquisition and production funding from financial group Interbanca (Screendaily Nov 20, 2001), is just one of the internationally-minded Italian companies filling its production slate with screen adaptations of literary masterpieces.

In particular, hot on the heels of last year's Oscar contender Chocolat, Eagle scooped film rights to Blackberry Wine, the follow-up from the best-selling author of Chocolat, Joanne Harris.

Blackberry Wine, which is narrated by a bottle of wine, follows a frustrated writer who lives in London, writes pulp science fiction under a pseudonym and drinks home-made fruit wine. Each sip of wine he takes brings the writer back 25 years to the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Eagle has also bought film rights to The Genesis Code, John Case's biotech best-seller about a dogged investigator who follows a trail that leads him to a remote mountainous village in Umbria.

The company's book-inspired production slate also includes: The Lazarus Child, a $60m medical thriller and English-language adaptation of Robert Mawson's novel; the animated film Abbaiare Stanca, based on Daniel Pennac's novel; and The Oracle, adapted from Valerio Manfredi's thriller about a Greek girl who is tortured in front of her Italian boyfriend during the 1973 student riots in Athens.

Italian directors such as Pietro Germi and Luchino Visconti have always adapted books for the screen. But the recent rise in popularity of adaptations can be put down to two factors says Giorgio Gosetti, head of Italia Cinema: "Firstly, there is a new generation of young Italian film producers who are on the look out for new ideas, and aren't necessarily waiting for directors to come up with their own ideas - as has often been the case in the past. Secondly, we are witnessing a rise in popularity of a new generation of excellent Italian writers both in Italy and abroad, such as Niccolo' Ammaniti and Alessandro Baricco, and the film industry is naturally interested in their work."

Giovanni Stabilini, co-head of Cattleya, agrees that the Italian film industry has started to move away from a cinema of writers-directors and particularly from a tradition of Italian comedies and comics who write, act in and direct their own films. Instead, producers are now intent on searching for writing talent and ideas outside the industry's small coterie of directors: "And it seems that Italy is now slowly catching up with the American and British interest in screen adaptations," he says.

Cattleya is currently lining up three - the most high-profile of which is Niccolo' Ammaniti's critically-acclaimed drama Io Non Ho Paura, which is set to be directed by Gabriele Salvatores, the Oscar-winning director of Mediterraneo. Set in southern Italy in the 1970s, it is the story of a 10-year-old boy who discovers another young boy has been kidnapped by his own father.

Elsewhere, the rush to adapt is equally evident. Vania Traxler, the head of Lady Film, is preparing a medium-to-high-budget film adapted from L'Eredita Di Eszter, Hungarian author Sandor Marai's best-selling novel of love and betrayal. Italian producer Leo Pescarolo has just bought rights to I'm Innocent, Daniele Barrila's true story about the 22 years he spent in prison after being wrongly accused (and finally acquitted) of drug trafficking. Pescarolo is also lining up Money Flies, a film adapted from Alessandro Fabbri's novel, co-produced with Andrea de Liberato's Poetiche Cinematografiche.

One of this year's most eagerly awaited screen adaptations is Burning In The Wind (Brucio Nel Vento), the new film from Bread And Tulips wunderkind Silvio Soldini. Based on Agata Kristof's novel, Burning In The Wind is about an Eastern European immigrant who lives in Switzerland and dreams of becoming a writer. The film is produced by Albachiara, the one-year-old Milan-based production company formed by Mikado, Lumiere and multimedia group DeAgostini.

Finally, all eyes are looking out for what might be described as the ultimate screen adaptation: Pinocchio, Roberto Benigni's latest picture, which, after delays, is due out next Christmas. And ensuring that the literary crowd as well as the movie folk stay happy, the Florentine comic has vowed that Vincenzo Cerami's script will keep faithful to the fabled Carlo Collodi tale.