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Panettone and “specialised films” for quality theatres

Rather than pop corn, its spectators prefer panettone, which is served sliced at the bar, if possible all year round. And they are not on the lookout for the latest blockbuster but favour “specialised films”. This is the “Palace” circuit, present in Australia’s five most important cities: Sidney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, where over half the Country’s population is concentrated.
The majority ownership of these 80 screens in 24 complexes is mainly in the hands of Antonio Zeccola, an Australian from Muro Lucano (Italy), who prefers to see himself as “born into a family of craftsmen” rather than “born into a family of artists”. Up until 1956 – the year when he left Italy for the Brand New Continent – his father, Giovanni, had been an exhibitor in Basilicata (Southern Italy). Today Antonio and his four children can boast not only of having continued and developed the exhibition business but also of having set up a vertically integrated company, starting from production: Zeccola is, in fact, the official executive producer of several Australian films, including Alexandra’s Project, which competed at the Berlinale in 2003.
We asked Zeccola, who has been in Europe to buy films at the Cannes market and in Rome – for example, The Second Night of Honeymoon –, for some advice on how to raise the visibility and circulation of Italian films worldwide. “To put it briefly, we should be learning from those who have been successfully exporting their films for years, i.e. our French cousins. One example is emblematic: Unifrance has recently invited half a dozen Australian journalists to Paris, for a full immersion in screenings of the most recent French productions”.
And Zeccola does not accept the fact that Mifed no longer exists. “For me the ideal sequence, from the beginning of September onwards, would be Toronto, Venice and Milan. With a nice “round-the-world” air ticket I could see a large number of films at the two festivals and then go on to Mifed to negotiate for the rights”.
Recently Palace celebrated its 40th anniversary with a party held in Melbourne, at the circuit’s flagship cinema, the “New Cinema Como”, freshly re-designed along spectacular lines. Cut-glass chandeliers, velvet divans, antique-style mirrors, contrasts of black and gold, are the features of a purposely anti-minimalist style which will characterise the modernisation of other theatres belonging to Palace, requiring an investment of 1.5 million euro. On the distribution side, Palace Films is recognised as a landmark for quality cinema in Australia – with special emphasis on Italian and European films – and has initiated a successful series of festivals devoted to French, Italian, Greek, Spanish and Israeli productions. In particular, the tricolour festival, launched in 2000, has become the launching pad for Italian films. The dozen or more titles a year imported by Zeccola – which attract primarily but not exclusively the vast community of Italian origin in Australia – have almost become a cult. There is a whole sector of the public, on average better educated and older than the classic cinemagoer – ready not only to watch titles like Agata and The Storm, After Midnight, The Consequences of Love and Good Morning, Night on the big screen, whilst sipping cappuccini and eating ice-creams, but also to purchase the compilations on dvd of all the films in the Italian festival – produced by Palace itself – or to watch them again on pay tv which has more or less a monopoly of “specialised films” and which buys the rights for films from the Bel Paese from Palace.
Issues that will certainly not be solved quickly. In the meantime, two simpler topics: Zeccola would like to be able to offer his clients panettoni all year round, but the Italian confectionery industry only produces them for Christmas; and above all he would highly value the Italian citizenship he “lost” many years ago. Could honorary citizenship for him at least be placed on the agenda, in view of his commitment to taking Italian films to the other side of the world?

Elisabetta Brunella