The Production, Distribution and Reception of Italian Quality Cinema.The Case of Cultural Interest Films
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For decades, Italy has been a major producer and exporter of ‘quality cinema’. This paper examines how active that role is today. It focuses on what are officially designated ‘Cultural Interest films’, which the Italian culture ministry (MiBACT) recognises for their “significant cultural, artistic or spectacular quality”. Drawing on the quantitative analysis of industry data, it is argued that Cultural Interest films – which account for about a quarter of Italian film output – are more likely than other Italian productions to display attributes associated with quality cinema, including large budgets, high production values, international co-production partners, highly regarded creative personnel, showy mise en scène, genre ambiguity, major awards, festival appearances and positive reviews. They also sell more cinema tickets in both Italy and the rest of Europe, suggesting these quality indicators have a positive impact on the box office performance and international circulation of Italian films. At the same time, the performance of Cultural Interest films outside of their domestic market is still very low compared with films produced in other major European countries. Thus, while Italy can still claim to be a major producer of quality cinema, it is no longer a significant exporter of such films. It is argued that one reason why Cultural Interest films do not circulate abroad as well as films from other major European films is because international distributors tend to prioritize those films which display conventional quality indicators (e.g. well-known director, major awards, festival appearances) at the expense of films with elements (e.g. a strong, clear story with both humour and social relevance) which actually appeal to international audiences. These findings have implications for both the Italian and the wider European film industry.
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