Massive demand from Italian exhibitors has led Italian distributor Medusa to widen its nationwide release of Pinocchio this Friday to an unprecedented 940 screens, up from the previously announced - and already record-breaking - 860 screens.

Through a careful Euros2m marketing campaign, Medusa and the film's star and director, Roberto Benigni, have managed to work the country into a frenzy over the release of Pinocchio, which at Euros40m is the highest budget ever for an Italian movie.

Although the film has garnered mixed reactions from the country's reviewers - like Benigni's previous directorial effort, Life is Beautiful - Medusa hopes that its unprecedented 5-month marketing campaign will help break new box office records.

Pre-release marketing strategies have chiefly involved leaking dribbles of information about the film through Pinocchio's supporting cast, writer Vincenzo Cerami and composer Nicola Piovani - and denying both press and public any access to Benigni himself.

The thinking behind the strategy, explains Medusa marketing chief Andrea Lazzarin, is that the Italian public's frustrated desire to see their country's most-loved star will heighten anticipation and hopefully lead them to cinemas in droves.

Italian exhibitors will be hoping that the strategy is successful, given the poor performance of the exhibition market. Cinema admissions in the country have fallen 11.3% in the first half of 2002, compared to the same period in 2001.

Meanwhile, local distributor Mediafilm also hopes to benefit from Benigni frenzy. On November 8th, the one-year-old outfit will re-release Jim Jarmusch's 1986 film Down By Law. It bought local rights after the ownership of another Rome outfit, Academy Film, expired.

Down By Law, which sees Benigni star as a naive, eccentric Italian caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, will be released on 70 screens. Jim Jarmusch is expected to make the trip to Rome for the film's re-release. Benigni will not be attending.