Cine en Ballaja fetes Spanish-language cinema

HOLLYWOOD – New arthouse cinemas are rising at an historical monument in Puerto Rico.

These will be the first screens for the island’s popular tourist destination, the nearly 500-year old neighborhood of Old San Juan.

Not a single screen has gone up within the walled confines of this historic district during the past 20 years. Starting April 28, the Cuartel de Ballaja, the barracks that housed Spanish soldiers and their families in the late 1800s, will boast three new arthouse screens, one of them for digital format.

An attached store will sell posters, screenplays and foreign pics in VHS and DVD. The barracks face the formidable six-level fortress El Morro, visited by about 1 million tourists per year.

Cine en Ballaja is the brainchild of Weisner Distribution, the only indie arthouse distributor on the island of nearly 3.8 million inhabitants.

“The past four years, we have noticed a growing appreciation for local and foreign independent cinema. We hope to satisfy that demand,” says founder-president Cynthia Weisner. According to Weisner, one of the 106-seat screens will be dedicated to Spanish-language cinema. “Before we launched in 2000, the only Spanish-language films coming into Puerto Rico were Pedro Almodovar’s,” she adds.

Toplining its slate is Julio Medem’s controversial “Pelota Vasca,” a documentary about the Basque nationalist movement in Spain which kicked up a lot of dust at San Sebastian last year. Other upcoming pics from Weisner include Cuban pics “Aunque este lejos” by Juan Carlos Tabio and Fernando Perez’s “Suite Habana.”

Santi Amodeo’s “Astronauta,” Eduard Cortes’ “La Vida de Nadie,” Antonio Cuadri’s “Eres mi heroe,” Achero Manas’ “Noviembre,” and Cesc Gay’s “En la ciudad,” will be among the first pics to screen at the Cines Ballaja.

The new screens will add to a paltry 263 on the entire island, which makes a whopping 17,000 inhabitants per screen.

Only two exhibs operate in Puerto Rico, with Caribbean Cinemas owning the bulk (215). Rival Cinevista operates the rest. Caribbean Cinemas runs three arthouse screens in metropolitan San Juan.

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