Italian producer and Lido habitué Mario Gianani is at the Venice Film Festival this year with Saverio Costanzo’s drama Finally Dawn which world premieres in Competition on Friday.
The head of Fremantle-owned film and TV production company Wildside has worked with Costanzo for two decades, producing all his work, from feature directorial debut Private to his more recent series In Treatment and the HBO hit My Brilliant Friend.
They are back together for a new period piece set against the backdrop of the 1950s heydays of Rome’s Cinecittà studios.
Saverio Costanzo Wraps 1950s-Set ‘Finalmente L’Alba’ With Lily James, Joe Keery & Willem Dafoe; Talks Moving On From TV Hit ‘My Brilliant Friend’: “I Needed To Free Myself”
‘Finally Dawn’ Clip: First Look At Lily James, Joe Keery & Willem Dafoe In 1950s Cinecittà Drama – Venice
Italian newcomer Rebecca Antonaci plays a young extra on a swords and sandals production who is swept up by its stars and taken on a memorable, life-changing night across Rome’s high society hotspots.
Antonaci is joined in the cast by Lily James as a capricious, magnetic and self-obsessed acting diva, Willem Dafoe, as a U.S. expat Rome art gallerist, and Joe Keery, as a tormented young actor.
The ambitious project shot in Cinecittà last fall and involved the construction of an Ancient Egypt set in the studios’ backlot.
Gianani explains that the film was born out of a real-life 1950s scandal involving a Roman woman called Wilma Montesi, who body was found washed up on a beach on the Lazio coast.
The story became a media sensation amid rumors she had being caught up in a high class sex and drugs scene and died at a party in a nearby luxury villa frequented by various politicians and stars.
“No-one was ever convicted. Her parents claimed their daughter had been on her menstrual cycle and fainted after putting her feet in the water, rather than admit she’d been at the party,” explains Gianani. “It was very different times.”
“It got Saverio thinking about the male gaze on women and misogyny. He wanted to write a story where he gave the girl another chance, another outcome.”
None of the international stars have flown in for the Venice premiere due to the Hollywood strikes.
Gianani admits that it would have been a disaster for the film if its shoot had gotten caught up in the industrial action.
“What would we have done? Asked Cinecittà to leave our sets up, unused for months?,” he says.
Some of Wildside’s TV activities have been caught up in the strikes, however, with two drama series currently on hold, the Audrey Hepburn bio-series being written by The Good Wife, The Leftovers writer Jacqueline Hoyt.
“They are at the final revisions stage, and we were on the verge of sending starting to commercialize them,” says Gianani.
The producer adds it is hard to gauge the longer-term impact for the continental European film and TV business, as Hollywood writers’ and actors’ strikes continue, commenting: “We work mainly with European talent so it’s simpler for us.”
Gianani is sympathetic to the strikers’ demands for a greater share of the value created by their work, noting it is a battle that is also being fought in Europe, albeit in a different way.
“I’m following it with interest Essentially, it’s about what kind of ecosystem we want to work in and even how we imagine society,” says Gianani.
Another dark cloud on the horizon for the Italian industry is the government’s announcement over the summer that it was reviewing the country’s film and TV sector tax credit scheme. The incentive, offering a 40% rebate on eligible spend in Italy, has been key to putting Italy back on the international map as a shooting location and production partner.
Gianani says it is not yet clear what the government is planning as yet.
“Nobody really knows. There are lots of rumors but until they publish their suggestions, it’s difficult to know. Tax credits have become a structural element of film and TV sectors across Europe, so you have to be careful when touching them and I hope and believe the government understands this,” he says.
Finally Dawn is scheduled for a Christmas release by its Rai-backed distributor 01 Distribution.
Gianani explains they are hoping to replicate the success in the same slot of Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s Cannes 2022 Jury prizewinner The Eight Mountains, which he lead produced with Wildside partner Lorenzo Gangarossa.
“It was kind of a counterprogramming, offering something different from the comedies and Christmas movies that usually come out at the time. People like to go to the cinema during this period in Italy and there is an audience which is looking for something else,” he explains.
“The Eight Mountains has been an incredible success, pulling in nearly one million spectators so far. It is the second most successful of last year after the latest film by [comedy trio] Aldo, Giovanni and Giacomo [Il Grande Giorno] ”
Other Wildside cinema releases include Simone Bozzelli’s Locarno-selected drama Patagonia [which releases September 14, and popular actress and comedian Paola Cortellesi’s feature directorial debut C’e Ancora Domani, which will open the Rome Film Festival in October.
“It’s a black and white film set in 1948… it’s pushing filmmaking boundaries but also has strong potential to connect with audiences, which is in keeping with our line of bringing back into people back to cinemas, which is at the heart of strategy right now,” says Gianani. “It’s a fillm I am proud to have produced.”
The company is also finishing post-production on Kirill Serebrennikov’s Limonov, The Ballad of Eddie, starring Ben Wishaw as the controversial Russian writer and political agitator. Gianani says it should be completed by November, December and will be looking for be a festival launch from Cannes onwards.
Projects in development include the next film by Van Groeningen and Vandermeersch which is currently at the writing stage. Gianani says it will not be in Italian and there is a strong possibility it will an English-language production.
“Felix and Charlotte are co-writing and Felix will direct,” he says. “We’ve really taken them into our hearts. They are two marvellous artists.”
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