Anglo-Italian production outfit Blue Spice has closed a $80m deal with Italy's Lux Vide to co-produce five major feature films.

It is also lining up a new thriller with Malcolm MacDowell about real-life Russian cannibal, The Monster of Rostov.

The Blue Spice-Lux deal will extend over 2 years. The first production under the deal is Mother Theresa , a $15m biopic which focuses on her vision when she arrived in Calcutta and the trouble she ran into with the Church. The film will be directed by Italy's Fabrizio Costa and starts shooting on June 8th in Sri Lanka.

"We decided to shoot in Sri Lanka because India can be a really difficult country to work in, as the Indian government wants to check everything you shoot," says Blue Spice's Pete Maggi.

Producers on the picture are Pete Maggi, Mike Cowan, Jason Piette and Luca Bernabei of Lux Vide, which is entering feature film production for the first time, after more than a decade specialising in high budget social-religious TV drama such as The Bible.

Blue Spice and Lux are also lining up a film about Roman emperor Nero, which is due to start shooting in September 2003. Nero was originally planned by Lux as part of a six-part TV series about the fall of the Roman Empire. This includes a film on Augustus, which has just finished shooting with Peter O'Toole in the lead role.

In the meantime, Blue Spice has started shooting in Kiev a $7m film about the Rostov monster, who went on a killing rampage between 1983 and 1990, allegedly killing and eating around 500 people.

Directed by David Grieco, the film stars Malcolm MacDowell as the monster. Pacific Pictures's Mario Cotone (Pinocchio, Life Is Beautiful) is producing with Maggi, Cowan and Piette. Blue Spice is currently in talks with international sales agents.

Also on Blue Spice's slate is 14 Apes In A Box, a visionary thriller which Mira Sorvino, Harvey Keitel and Christopher Walken are in talks to star in. The film tells the story of three British boys who end up in a hotel in the middle of nowhere in the US and get involved in a dangerous all-night game with the hotel concierge.

Produced by Maggi, the film will be directed by Ago Panini, one of Europe's most successful commercial directors, who will be making his feature debut with 14 Apes.

Shooting starts in September 2003 in Terni, Italy and Wyoming. International distribution rights are handled by Arclight with Mikado distributing in Italy.

Blue Spice was recently formed as a joint venture between Maggi's Blue Star Movies and the UK's Spice Factory. Both companies aim to produce 4-5 films each year within a budget range of $5m-25m.