Italy's leading distribution outfit, Medusa Film, has grabbed theatrical rights to six films including Roberto Benigni's eagerly-anticipated Pinocchio (right) from beleaguered former powerhouse Cecchi Gori group.

Pinocchio producer Elda Ferri and Medusa were unwilling to reveal financial details of the deal. However, sources close to the production believe the amount to be in the region of $9m (Lire 20bn). Cecchi Gori is believed to have originally paid around $11m (Lire24bn) for Italian theatrical rights.

According to insiders, Benigni reportedly financed the picture entirely through his production company Melampo Cinematografica's original deal with Cecchi Gori and a $9m (Lire20bn) Italian free-TV deal for four runs over four years.

In the latest demonstration of the Tuscan comic's popularity - and an indication of potential asking prices for advertising when he is on air, the TV premiere of his 1997 hit, Life Is Beautiful, attracted a massive 16 million viewers when it was broadcast on RAIUNO in October. That is equivalent to a 54% share; while in February, 20 million viewers tuned into to watch him perform during the San Remo song festival.

Elda Ferri said Pinocchio will be released nationwide in October under a joint Medusa and Cecchi Gori banner. Miramax holds international distribution rights outside Italy.

Meanwhile, in a further sign that Cecchi Gori is still unable to emerge from the financial difficulties that have crippled it for the last year, Medusa spokesman Claudio Trionfera confirmed that the Fininvest-owned group has also picked up Paolo Virzi's highly anticipated My Name Is Tanino. The film is a bittersweet comedy about a 20-year-old Sicilian who falls in love with an American girl and travels to the US to see her, before realising that America might not be for him after all.