US majors are lining up to distribute and produce local films in Italy following a slow but consistent trend internationally.

Two films from the Rome-based Cattleya production outfit start shooting this month with Hollywood players on board.

(Chocolate Lessons) Lezioni di Cioccolato will be Universal Italy's first foray into distributing a local film. The project is to be directed by Claudio Cupellini and to star Violante Placido. The comedy is set for a late November 2007 release, when local comedies traditionally take a big slice of the total box office.

Universal's Italian chief Richard Borg told the venture with Cattleya is being considered 'a first approach to what could be a long-term deal. We think they are the right partners to work with in the future.' He underlined that the studio liked the project - and that helped get the ball rolling.

While Universal has not made any formal announcements, their intention is to up become involved in local production, not just distribution.

'Universal is interested in getting involved in local production and we are aiming at two to three productions or co-productions a year starting in 2008,' Borg confirmed. The company will focus on quality films and commercial products.

Meanwhile, Warner Bros. Italia has been active in local productions since 2002 with a consistent three to four titles per year slate, including Cannes selection My Brother Is An Only Child and the acclaimed Crime Novel.

Warner is currently involved in Cattleya's project Amore, bugie e calcetto (Love, Lies and Soccer), which begins shooting in the Northern city of Trieste this month. A story of 'love and betrayal,' the film is likely to have strong commercial appeal for Italians.

The continued interest from the US majors comes at a time when Italian homegrown films have captured 34.66% of the total box office market share in the first five months of 2007.