Uberto Pasolini produced one of the biggest hits in recent UK history, 1997's The Full Monty, but he struggled to find UK finance for his feature directorial debut Machan, and took the project to Italy's Rai Cinema instead.

'In Italy, I am known as the guy lucky enough to have made The Full Monty. I am known as the guy who made Palookaville, which was very successful,' he says of his record as a producer.

Rai immediately agreed to put up about half of the budget. Studio Babelsberg also came on board as the German co-producer. Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox pre-bought German rights. There was also some funding from Sri Lanka and support from Eurimages.

Pasolini also contributed some of his own money through his company, Redwave, to the film, which is being sold internationally by Germany's Beta Cinema.

Based on a true story of a group of 23 Sri Lankan slum dwellers who posed as the national handball team of Sri Lanka in order to flee to the West, the film was shot in Sri Lanka in the local language, Sinhala, with unknown actors.

Machan won the Europa Cinemas Label in Venice earlier this month and went on to screen in Toronto in Contemporary World Cinema. Mikado is releasing the film in Italy this month.

As Pasolini is at pains to point out, Machan is a film primarily made by Sri Lankans. 'It is about the Sri Lankans making a film for themselves. The crew was Sri Lankan, the cast was Sri Lankan, the language was Sri Lankan.'

Pasolini first had the idea for the movie after coming across a small news story about the team. At the time, he was struggling after the collapse of Eucalyptus, a movie he had been trying to pull together with Russell Crowe and director Jocelyn Moorhouse. What appealed to him about the story was the opportunity to make a movie about poverty, immigration and exile in a humorous way. 'We could have an engine to the film that was a comedy engine...or at least a light engine,' he says.

He went to Sri Lanka to research the project and found one of the country's top film-makers, Prasanna Vithanage, to co-produce. He brought in Sri Lankan playwright Ruwanthie de Chickera to work on the screenplay.

It had not been his original intention to direct but during his time in Sri Lanka, he became so excited by the project that he decided - as he puts it - 'to do it myself'. Pasolini was working in a language that he didn't speak yet describes his collaboration with his Sri Lankan colleagues as 'a feast of generosity'.

It is just over a decade since Pasolini's triumph with The Full Monty, directed by Peter Cattaneo. There are obvious overlaps between the two films. Both are about men on the margins, trying to better their lives in an inventive and surprising way. 'The difference with The Full Monty was that I was interested in making a film about unemployment in England in the Thatcher years but I had to invent the story. Here, the story is invented by 23 Sri Lankans who actually did this three years ago!'

With his producer's hat on, Pasolini is already busy on various new projects including a film adaptation of Guy De Maupassant's Bel-Ami (to be directed by Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod of Cheek By Jowl theatre company) and a western called The Horseman to be directed by Alan Taylor, who Pasolini worked with on Palookaville and The Emperor's New Clothes. Ask Pasolini how easy it is currently to raise money for his projects in the UK and he says: 'The UK has become much better for raising money for certain kinds of films but there are other kinds of films - often my films - that don't quite fit in.'

The Full Monty made close to $260m worldwide. But Pasolini insists the film's enormous success has not become an albatross for him. '[The Full Monty] is still financing my company in the lean years of not producing films. More importantly, it did not act as an unreachable goal; it acted like a springboard.'