A group of international private investors backed by a private UK bank has created a new financing and production company, named Company of Arts.

The new Rome-based outfit, which will officially launch in May, already has two projects in the pipeline: Defenceless, a Euros 20m English-language feature film, set in the French town of Deauville in 1948, and Nick a musical based on the life of composer Nicola Paganini.

Defenceless will focus on three Americans who live in France and meet up with a Frenchman and an Italian. "It's an intriguing story that will focus on the absurdities of life and reincarnation 300 years after an original meeting," product manager Silvia C. Sandon told Screendaily.com.

The film, which is expected to start shooting in France by the end of 2003 with an ensemble cast, will be almost entirely financed by Company of Arts.

It will be distributed by a US major and will be directed by a British or American filmmaker, said Sandon, a veteran independent Italian producer who wrote Defenceless's English-language screenplay and previously worked for Publitalia and Mediaset's Canale 5.

"Company of Arts is a European company that was formed by three core partners and a group of international investors, several of whom have already backed international feature films before," Sandon told Screendaily. Funds, which are to be used to bankroll medium-to-high budget features and theatre productions are managed by a private London bank, she added.

"We want to represent for international productions an alternative way of funding films to the current duopoly," she said, clearly referring to Medusa/Mediaset and Rai Cinema/Rai. "We are also ready to fund projects that originate from outside our company - but expect to fund two features each year," the Milan-born Sandon said, adding: "We see ourselves as more of an 'haute-couture' outfit, rather than 'pret-a-porter'."

While underlining the outfit's intention to support Italian talent, Sandon insisted that Company of Arts has no political affiliations of any kind and will not be applying for any state funds.

"Company of Arts is not backed by Murdoch, Berlusconi or any Middle Eastern money, but by entrepreneurs who are convinced about the opportunities that the film industry can offer," she said.

Company of Arts will open an office in Rome by May. In the meantime, the outfit has launched an internet site: www.thedreambuster.it