Universal Pictures, the studio arm of NBC Universal, announced Monday it had acquired a minority stake in a leading Italian film production company Cattleya. This deal follows the merger last Wednesday of Universal Pictures Intl. Studio and Focus Features under the new banner of Focus Features Intl., according to Financial Times.

This is a first time a US studio has invested directly in local production in Italy. It is among the latest international production agreement struck by Universal.

The international business really represents the growth centre for the company, said David Linde, co-chairman of Universal Pictures.

As a result of the pact Universal pictures International will distribute a minimum of two films a year in Italy. The first film released through the Universal/Cattleya deal is Diverso da Chi, directed by Umberto Riccioni Carteni, starring Luca Argentero, Claudia Gerini and Filippo Nigro. The movie is set to be released March 20.