BUENOS AIRES — Biz in the theatrical sector rose sharply over the past year in Argentina, spearheaded by “Jurassic Park,” which culled close to $ 4,600,000 at local wickets. Close on its heels came a local film, “Tango Feroz,” which clocked in at $ 4,225,000 after a run of 154 days. “Tango,” a co-prod with Spain , is a story of a young Argentine rock musician in the ’60s.

Total national gross last year hit $ 55 million, up from $ 46 million the previous year, thanks mostly to U.S. product. Of the 50 top-grossing pix, 36 were U.S., six local and four from Britain. The rise came despite the fact that only 280 hardtops remain in the country, the most profitable run by the SAC and Coll/Saragusti circuits.

Some theater-building has nonetheless begun. New multiplexes such as Cineplex , Trocadero, Normandie and others located in shopping centers have compensated for those shuttered on Buenos Aires’s version of Broadway, the Calle Lavalle, where old hardtops have been turned into bingo parlors, penny arcades and videogame venues.

Tickets at firstrun houses now peak at $ 6, except on Wednesdays, when a 50% discount draws large crowds to the theaters.

In addition to “Jurassic Park” and “Tango Feroz,” four other films topped the $ 2 million gross mark in Buenos Aires in 1993. These were “The Bodyguard,”$ 2, 584,000, “Aladdin,”$ 2,366,000, “Scent of a Woman,”$ 2,208,000, and “Indecent Proposal,”$ 2,143,000.

“Like Water for Chocolate” culled $ 1,651,000 in 63 days at year’s end and is still running strong. Other pix doing well were “The Fugitive,” with a cume of $ 1,446,000, and “The Crying Game” with $ 1,535,000 at end of ’93. Also doing good biz were “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,”$ 1,303,000, “A Matter of Honor,”$ 1,221,000, “The Piano,”$ 1,180,000, “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,”$ 1,103,000, Argentine pic “Gatica el Mono,”$ 1,060,000, and French item “Indochine,”$ 956,000.

As for the local production scene, Argentine cinema had another poor year, with just 13 films released, the same number as in 1989 and 1990. There was a slight improvement in 1991, with 15 pix released, but 1992 was the worst, with only 10 films opening.

Besides the phenomenally successful “Tango Feroz,” other pix opening last year were “Gatica el Mono” (429,000 tix), “El Caso Maria Soledad” (252,000), “De Eso No Se Habla” (197,000), while others such as “Perdido por Perdido,””Funes, un Gran Amor,” and the much-touted “The Plague” bombed. Latter sold only 66,000 seats.

Among local films in the hopper, only one is directed by an established first-class filmmaker: Hector Olivera’s “Una Sombra Ya Pronto Seras” (A Shadow You Will Soon Be). At press time, no film was in production.

On the legislative side, film unions and guilds were lobbying Congress to pass a law requiring a 10% tax on any spot advertising shown on TV, before, during and after the screening of any feature film on tubes, no matter what the nationality of the film. Other taxes are being urged for cable TV and homevideo sales.

These moves have met with strong opposition from all TV stations and associations, who succeeded in convincing legislators to postpone the bill sent by President Menem. It was to have been debated during the current period of special sessions.

TV station owners have demanded a voice in the matter and have offered to start negotiations with congressmen and filmmakers on how to address the problems of local film production. But there is concern on the part of congressmen about how funds collected from a tax on TV would be handled.

The television sector is also concerned about a campaign launched by Comfer, the local equivalent of the FCC, against sex on screen, which includes a threat to cancel licenses of stations ignoring its warning. Multisystem operators have withdrawn the scrambled softcore channels launched here last year.

Meanwhile, the National Film Institute (Instituto Nacional de Cine) seems to be racked by internal crises. Deputy topper Manuel Garcia has resigned, and the appointment of key personnel selected by a special panel hadn’t yet materialized at press time. INC director Guido Parisier was recently taken into custody by the police due to alleged irregularities in a betting agency he is associated with, and was later released on bail.

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