Pesetas Tight For Spanish Filmmakers

Spain is supposedly booming.

Part of that impression was created when Spanish tv webs bought software in excess of $1 billion last year. There was also the domestic and international success of Pedro Almodovar, and an upturn in theatrical rentals.

But the impression of Spaniards awash in pesetas is a half truth.

Yank majors grabbed 85.6% of Spain’s b.o. during the first nine months of 1990 leaving only the crumbs for Spanish indie distribs. In tv, every single web in Spain is losing money with a vengeance, with Spanish Television (RTVE) and regional webs at the fore.

On the production side, number of feature films made in Spain in 1990 dropped 23% to only 36, and most of those were duds at the b.o.

In 1989,47 features were made. A decade ago, production totaled over 100.

The number of financially solid producers decreases each year in Spain, so that now about the only banners making more than one film a year are Andres Gomez’ Iberoamericana Films and the Cartel group. Most others are sporadic production efforts relying almost entirely on handouts from the Film Institute and pre-deals with Spanish Television (RTVE).

Production outlook for the remainder of the year is not terribly upbeat. RTVE’s losses of audience and income, due to stepped-up competition from other webs, have been so gigantic that a severe austerity program was begun at the State web last month. Matters at RTVE will get worse before they get better, meaning financing for features may have dried up.

Admittedly, some new private film financing groups such as Esicma, IDEA and Cinepaq have surfaced, but whether they’ll be able to provide the coin (usually between $500,000 to $1 million per pic) that RTVE did, remains a moot point.

The Culture Ministry’s Film Institute continues to funnel subsidy coin to producers. During 1990, close to $20 million was plowed into 39 features, ranging from $200,000 to $850,000 per pic. Whether this policy will be continued under the new Culture Minister, Jordi Sole Tura, who took over from Jorge Semprun in March, remains unclear.

Certainly, looking down the list of pics receiving subsidies, it seems many will never even get released, and only the smallest fraction can be expected to recoup their expenses.

Yet there does seem to be a mini-trend towards at least trying to make more commercial films with a view to an audience beyond the Pyrenees. Such pics as Paco Lara’s “The Monk,” Juan Piquer’s “The Mansion Of Cthulhu” and Impala/Jet Films’ “A Winter In Lisbon” are at least attempts to break out of local auteur straitjackets.

The panorama in indie distribution is hardly more heartening. In March, one of Spain’s biggest distribs, Ivex Films, went belly up leaving some $20 million in unpaid bills. Also, as has been happening for years, the Yank majors are controlling an ever greater piece of the market. For the few remaining indies to obtain prime commercial release dates and theaters has become nigh impossible.

Some, such as Iberoamericana and Araba Films, have pacted with UIP for latter to release their product. Another major distrib, Lauren Films, is surviving only because it also controls a number of hardtops in Madrid and Barcelona.

Other indies still in the running are Izaro Films, which has closed most of its regional offices in Spain; also Recordvision, a relatively new player that has been heavily buying Yank pics; Dipenfa, still moderately active; and Paco Hoyos’ Surffilms.

For arthouse releases, in Spanish subtitled versions, the usual distribs are still plying a minor, but profitable biz: Enrique Gonzalez Macho of Alta Films, who recently opened his second multiplex in Madrid; Javier de Garcillan of Musidora; Walter Achugar of Prime Films (Primer Piano) who has been expanding.

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