As part of its drive into high profile film production, Rai Cinema is set to produce the next project by Franco Zeffirelli after the Italian director completes his widely anticipated upcoming film, Callas Forever, for rival mini-major Medusa Film.

Although it is not yet clear what the next Zeffirelli project will be, the director has been preparing historical epic The Florentines - The Medici for some time.

Zeffirelli starts shooting his film about the opera diva on July 23rd in Paris, Spain and Romania, and French actress Fanny Ardant stars in the lead role. Jeremy Irons will play the part of Callas's American impresario. Rome-based production company Cattleya is co-producing with Medusa, which is also handling international sales. Talks are currently pressing ahead with potential Spanish and French co-production partners.

Meanwhile, Rai Cinema is involved in Luis Sepulveda's Nowhere, and is preparing two films with the legendary US-based Italian producer, Dino De Laurentiis: director Carlo Carlei's sword-and-sandal epic The Last Legion, and Andrei Konchalovsky's socio-political thriller, The Woman With the Gun. Principal photography is due to start on both pictures at the end of 2001.

Rai Cinema is also expected to co-produce Richard Gere's directorial debut with Lakeshore, with plans to shoot the film in Italy in 2002.