Richard Gere is set to make his directorial debut with a feature film that is being planned as a co-production between Italy's RAI Cinema and Lakeshore. The two companies are currently in talks to reach an agreement on the 52-year-old actor's film, which it is understood could go into production in Italy in 2002.

As part of its high-profile drive into production, RAI Cinema is currently preparing two features with Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis, who is set to receive the Irving G. Thalberg award at the Academy Awards ceremony later this month.

Filming is due to start later this year on The Woman With The Gun, a contemporary thriller with a strong social theme to be directed by Russia's Andrei Konchalovsky, and The Last Legion, an Ancient Rome epic which will be directed by Italy's Carlo Carlei (The Flight of The Innocent.)

RAI Cinema has recently signed an exclusive multi-year acquisition agency agreement with Lakeshore International to buy US films for distribution in Italy under a new distribution label, which the Rome-based company created in partnership with France's Studio Canal. As part of the deal with Lakeshore, RAI Cinema has bought a three-picture package from Intermedia including K:19 , K-Pax, a Universal release directed by Iain Softley with Jeff Bridges and Kevin Spacey; Afterimage, a film starring rock star John Mellencamp which screened at Sundance; and Life As A House, which stars Kevin Kline, Kristin Scott Thomas and Mary Steenburgen.

RAI Cinema, the public broadcaster's film arm, was created in December 1999 with a budget of $750m for the production and distribution of films and TV movies during the three-year period between 2000 and 2002. The company will officially launch its distribution label with a slate of 15 US, European and Italian films at Cannes in May.