Italian distributor Istituto Luce has unveiled a newco-production slate that includes both films by hot local directors andambitious international projects.

Luce is currently lining up a Euros 20m noir-thrillerentitled La Fenice. The film, which will be entirely set in Venice, isexpected to star Colin Firth and Peter O'Toole, and will start shooting inJanuary 2006. It is being planned as a UK-Italian-French co-production.

Luce is a co-producer on Little Red Flowers byChina's Zhang Yuan, a tale about childhood adapted from Zhang Shuo'ssemi-autobiographical It Looks Beautiful.

The film is co-produced by Zhang, Marco Mueller's DowntownPictures, Culture and Sports Enterprises Ltd, CenturyHero Film Investment Ltd, and Beijing Century Good-Tidings Cultural DevelopmentLtd. Italy's Rai Cinema is backing the film.

On the Italian front, the state distributor is lining up anew film by critically-acclaimed director Mimmo Calopresti. Entitled L'Invito,it is a film about cinema set in the southern Italian Calabria region. It isplanned as a French-Italian co-production and will start shooting in February.

Istituto Luce is also producing La Straniera,a Euros 3m drama by Marco Turco (Vite Sospese), about two Moroccanimmigrants in Italy - one an architect, the other a prostitute - who fall inlove. The film is a co-production between Tecnovisual, Babe, and Arcapix incollaboration with Rai Cinema and Eurimages. Other projects include adocumentary about 1968 in France, the US and Italy, which features Bob Dylan.

Istituto Luce's Luciano Sovena says thecompany's strategy to co-produce major international titles is a necessary one,given current film budgets and lack of funds in Italy.

"It isincreasingly difficult to produce only Italian films. Countries like Hungary,the UK and Spain facilitate production. But now European co-productions are theonly way of financing medium-to-high budget pictures here," Sovena said.

Meanwhile at the Venice Film Festival, Luceco-produced Krzysztof Zanussi's competition title Persona Non Grata,Critics Week film Mater Natura, Directors' Fortnight title ThePassion of Joshua The Jew by Pasquale Scimeca, and special screening FuocoSu Di Me with Omar Sharif.

In Venice, Sovena has also acquired Italianrights to Philippe Garrel's competition title Regular Lovers and toDirectors' Fortnight film C.R.A.Z.Y.