Producers, gov't join forces to raise profile of local pix

MADRID — Spain’s biggest pic of the year — “Mortadelo & Filemon” (The Big Adventure) — hits Spanish hardtops Feb. 7. The wacky, live-action adaptation of a bestselling Spanish comicbook about two goofball sleuths is budgeted at between $8 million and $10 million and will go out on a blockbuster print run (for Spain) of more than 300 copies.

But the Spanish film industry probably won’t release another pic with this high a budget and this big a run again this year. Producers say Spain lacks big, or even biggish, homegrown event pics that can face up to the increasing swamp of front-loaded, blanket-released U.S. big titles.

A Variety study shows that in 2001 only 11 local pics bowed in Spain on more than 300 screens; in 2002 this number doubled to 22.

Attempting to increase the number of bigger local pics, Spanish pic producers and Spain’s Partido Popular government are joining forces to raise the scale and international importance of Spanish filmmaking.

On Jan. 27, Spain’s culture minister Pilar del Castillo met with reps of Spain’s powerful Fapae producers’ lobby, led by its prexy, Eduardo Campoy, and three of the barons of its movie production community: Andres Vicente Gomez, Enrique Cerezo and Gerardo Herrero.

There were many issues on the table, but two stand out: tax breaks and government subsidies.

Currently, private investors enjoy only a 5% exemption on tax-payable monies they invest in Spanish movies or TV programming. Del Castillo recognizes the tax breaks are too insignificant to be attractive. She says the government has commissioned a study on the likely effects of increasing exemptions.

“Discussion turned on raising the tax breaks to 20%,” Gomez says. “Breaks of this consideration could make a difference, attracting private finance for the Spanish film industry.”

“Mortadelo & Filemon” producer Fernando Bovaira, Sogecable’s director of film, agrees: “The distribution trend toward front-loaded releases doesn’t favor small national film industries. There’s very little private investment in the Spanish industry and a lack of big local films.”

Producers also called on the Spanish government to double Spain’s subsidy fund to €80 million ($86 million).

It may prove hard for the industry to achieve both these goals. Jose Maria Aznar’s ruling Popular Party tends to favor the substitution of direct state aid by indirect incentives, such as tax breaks.

But the Partido Popular faces general elections in 2004. It will not want to alienate the Spanish film industry or see its thunder stolen by Spain’s opposition socialists who are reportedly prepping a heavyweight package of local film support initiatives.

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