Distribs balk at Mexico's movie ticket tax

GUADALAJARA, Mexico — Twentieth Century Fox Mexico reaped millions from “The Passion of the Christ’s” boffo opening weekend of $4.9 million, but it’s not happy about having to stump up the one-peso-per-ticket tax that fills the coffers of a national film fund.

The company lost its injunction against Mexico’s controversial tax last week.

“Passion’s” 1.7 million opening-weekend admissions means an injection of 1.7 million pesos ($170,000) for the coffers of state-backed national film institute Imcine.

Imcine launched the initiative in January 2003 to raise coin for its two depleted film funds, Fidecine and Foprocine. Distribs complied with the ruling but immediately filed individual injunctions, which froze the funds. They now stand at more than $14 million.

“We have been contributing to this fund since it began, but we have been fighting to recover our earnings,” said Eduardo Echevarria, VP Latin America at Fox.

Ironically, joint distrib venture Columbia TriStar/Buena Vista Intl. won its injunction in December. Even more frustrating is the fact that Fox shares that group’s lawyers. “A lot depends on which judge reviews your case,” Echevarria said.

Although the rulings may not be appealed, Fox’s lawyers are working out a strategy to overturn the court’s decision.

However, film fund execs are thrilled with the infusion of coin.

“We are elated,” said Imcine director Alfredo Joskowicz, who has noted a revitalized film industry in Mexico.

After surviving attempts to close it down late last year, Imcine has seen its budget increased.

The news couldn’t be better for Mexico’s film production industry, which has depended on Imcine to get its projects off the ground.

Meanwhile, unimpressed by the hype surrounding “The Passion,” 53% of 1,003 Germans surveyed by the Emnid research group say they won’t bother to see Mel Gibson’s retelling of Jesus’ last hours; 38% favor seeing it.

“The Passion” opened last week in Germany to lower-than-expected box office returns. Grossing nearly $2.4 million from 286,000 admissions in its first four days, pic landed second behind Disney’s “Brother Bear.”

(Ed Meza in Berlin contributed to this report).

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