On the weekend that it released its first ever title, RAI Cinema and StudioCanal's new theatrical offshoot 01 Distribuzione was accused of "unfairly monopolising" the [Italian] distribution sector.

The charges, made by Giampaolo Sodano, president of the national distributors association, UNIDIM, and Aurelio De Laurentiis, president of indie distributor FilmAuro, have been the biggest source of controversy so far during the Venice film festival.

Sodano called for RAI to be prevented from operating in the sector and said that a public broadcaster which receives state funds is able to buy distribution rights without being subjected to any real financial risk, unlike an independent distributor who must use its own own capital. "RAI Cinema can also bid for theatrical rights, knowing that it already has TV rights covered. This places independents, who have to struggle to sell TV rights, in a very difficult position."

Ignoring the case of the UK's FilmFour group, Sodano claimed: "There is no other [European] country which has a broadcaster in a similar position. Neither the BBC nor France 2, have their own distribution operations.The government should live and and let live, not try to do everything itself".

Carlo Macchitella, vice-president of RAI Cinema and head of 01, countered the charges with his own economic arguments: "RAI Cinema was set up as the result of a government decree which stated that national broadcasters must invest a certain amount of money in film production. We also have to ensure that there is a return on investment. If we hadn't set up 01, we would be accused of not caring about the future of the films and not acting responsibly with the money that the state has given us."

He added: "01 is a joint venture between RAI Cinema and StudioCanal, and you can't get a much more private company than StudioCanal. Plus, our intention isn't to grab anyone else's market share. 01 is only targeting a market share of between 5 and 8%. We won't be distributing all the RAI Cinema-produced films, and we also want to find distribution for Italian films that would not otherwise be released."

01 this week released Heartbreakers (pictured), starring Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt, acquired from Winchester Entertainment. Among the other 25-plus titltes on its debut slate, it is also set to handle Brotherhood Of The Wolf (Le Pacte Des Loups) from StudioCanal and Guiseppe Piccioni's Venice competition entry Light Of My Eyes (Luce Dei Miei Occhi).