In the latest sign that Italian independent distributors are becoming a force to be reckoned with on the international buying scene, ambitious young Rome-based independent Key Films has partnered with the Berlusconi-owned Fininvest group to acquire films.

The new deal with Mediatrade, Fininvest's television and film rights division, will allow the fledgling outfit to chase after full Italian rights to prominent features by guaranteeing television rights to any completed films, co-productions or pre-sales projects that Key is considering acquiring.

One-year-old Key is being bolstered just as other Italian independents are starting to make their presence felt internationally. Eagle Pictures, which is planning its launch on Milan's New Market trading floor later this year, has been an aggressive rights-buyer of late. And newly-formed Nexo has started picking films outside a nine-picture distribution deal with New Line, starting with the Italian rights to UK title The Hole.

Mediatrade has already boarded Thomas Vintenberg's highly anticipated It's All About Love, for which Key Films is a co-producer. Budgeted at an estimated $13m, the New York-set futuristic love-story revolves around a world famous ice-skater separated from her lover. Trust Film Sales is handling non-English rights on the Nimbus Film production and the UK's FilmFour has taken English-speaking rights.

Commenting on the deal, Mediatrade chief Roberto Pace said: "Key is a very strong company that has really created a niche in the market. I'm pleased that we can consolidate our relationship in this way. One of the major factors for us is knowing that Key can cover big-budget films as well as art-house titles, and is also very focused on the discovery of new talent."

Key president Kermit Smith added: "As with all new endeavours, it is about the meeting of necessity and minds both creatively and economically. I believe that with a strong creative force such as Roberto Pace, there should be quite a few successful years ahead of us."

Key's own production arm, launched last spring, is currently developing Mira Nair's with the Independent Feature Channel, Lisanne Skyler's Rules Of The Wild and Lasse Hallstrom's Sebastian's Love.