Charlotte Rampling is set to heighten the buzz surrounding Oscar nominated director Gianni Amelio's already widely-anticipated new picture, The Keys To The House (Le Chiavi di Casa), after agreeing to star in the picture alongside local actor Kim Rossi Stuart.

But, just as important as the cast, is the fact that this Euros5m family drama, like so many other Italian filmmakers coping with Italy's financing crisis, is being established as a major international co-production.

Pinocchio's Elda Ferri of Jean Vigo Italia is producing together with Rai Cinema, and Enzo Porcelli's Alia Film. The Italian contingent will be joined by German producer Karl "Baumi" Baumgartner's Pandorafilmverleih and France's Bruno Peseri of Arena Films. Also expected to be on board is US outfit Lakeshore, with whom Rai Cinema has a long-term production and distribution agreement.

While Gianni Amelio may be one of Italy's most internationally respected filmmakers, he is by no means the only local director to have recently been garnering the attention of international production partners.

Rai Cinema has several projects in development that are likely to be co-produced by foreign partners, including new films by Cristina Comencini (The Best Day of My Life), Marco Tullio Giordana (Hundred Steps) and Danis Tanovic whose follow-up to the Oscar-winning No Man's Land is offbeat story set in Africa called North Africa.

Meanwhile, international interest has also focused on projects, Rai-produced and otherwise, such as Five Moons Square by director Renzo Martinelli and Cantando Dietro I Paraventi, Ermanno Olmi's upcoming movie.

According to Carlo Macchitella, one of the main reasons why Italian producers are being increasingly spurred to look for international partners is the long-lasting drought that has hit the country's main film financiers: the Italian government fund, and pay and free-TV.

"Italy's economic difficulties have led to a drop in advertising investments and therefore TV investment in film. But the problems have also had a positive effect: it has meant that directors are having to look for outside money," Macchitella said.

In addition, producers haven't been able to rely on the once-prolific Italian government's Fondo Di Garanzia, which temporarily halted funding several months ago to make way for the appointment of a new selection commission. It is expected to kick off a new selection process for the tens of films that have been left in limbo, but in the meantime Silvio Berlusconi's government is now also waiting for a new funding decree to be debated in Parliament.

This could see government funding per project drop to a maximum of 50% of the total budget - a move that has been welcomed by the local industry who feels that less easy access to government aid will force producers to make more commercially-viable films that can also sell better abroad.

And a number of recent local pictures have proved that Italian filmmakers are finally managing to mesh commercial films with quality - rather than distinctly separate the two.

Examples of recent successes include Alessandro D'Alatri's Casomai, which performed well at the local box office and is proving to be a hot sell abroad, as well as Gabriele Muccino's The Last Kiss and Marco Bellocchio's Hour Of Religion.

"International co-productions are becoming popular, although Italy still has a long-way to go. Co-productions have never been in our DNA. But something very positive is definitely happening to the local film industry," Macchitella adds.

New projects on Rai Cinema's 2003 development slate, which will all be distributed by Rai distribution label, 01:

Director: Gianni Amelio
Title: The Keys to the House
Based on Giuseppe Pontiggia's novel Born Twice
Starring Charlotte Rampling, Kim Rossi Stuart

Director: Marco Tullio Giordana
Drama set during Italy's 1948 Risorgimento (Reunification)

Director: Danis Tanovic
Offbeat story set in Africa called North Africa.

Director: Marco Ponti
Drama set in contemporary Italy set to shoot in Spring 2003.

Director: Alessandro D'Alatri
Bittersweet follow-up to hit Casomai, based on the theme of envy.

Director: Giuseppe Piccioni
Title: Your Face
Drama about the difficulty for screen actors of finding love

Director: Cristina Comencini
Title: My Right Hand
English-language 19th century drama about German pianist Clara Wieck and her relationship with her husband, composer Robert Schumann.

Director: Marco Bellocchio
Title: Buongiorno Notte
Drama inspired by the 1968 kidnapping and murder of Italian prime minister Aldo Moro.

Director: Paolo Virzi
Title: Caterina Va In Citta