Continental takes on artpix

Co. diversifying rev streams with TV movies, DVD distrib'n

MADRID — “It warms the cockles of my heart!” exclaims cinema booker Roberto Bayon, commenting on two foreign-lingo art films — “The Downfall” and “The Chorus” — making Spain’s top 10 over March 4-6.

So Spain’s art film scene is doing just dandy? Not quite — and local releases have been hit particularly hard. No new art pic release from a Spanish helmer made north of 1 million euros ($1.33 million) in 2004. In fact, it seems as if perhaps “Downfall” and “Chorus” could be isolated examples.

This year promises bows from well-known local directors: Isabel Coixet’s oil-rig chamber piece “The Secret Life of Words,” with Tim Robbins and Sarah Polley; Montxo Armendariz’s fantastical “Obaba”; and Fernando Leon’s prostitute friendship drama “Princesses.”

But most art fare underperforms with alarming regularity. Producers carp about a lack of access to exhibition and TV coin. To counter this, however, they’re plotting new production strategies.

A case in point is Continental Prods., the large Galician film-TV-commercials house run by producer Pancho Casal and director Xavier Villaverde. Casal broke through co-producing socially themed fare such as Fernando Leon’s paean to laid-off shipyard workers, “Mondays in the Sun.”

Turning on a tragedy-stricken family, his latest pic, Patricia Ferreira’s out-of-comp Berlin player “Something to Remember Me By,” is pure art fare. But Casal and Villaverde are now pioneering a Continental shift.

Its 2005 slate includes Sandra Sanchez’s premonition chiller “The Gift,” Rodrigo Cortes’ fast-paced consumer satire “The Contestant,” Villaverde’s sexual rights-of-passage “The Sex of Angels” and Ramon Costafeda’s starting-life-again drama “Wrap Out,” written by Fernando Castets (“The Son of the Bride”).

The slate taps three first-time directors — Cortes, Sanchez and Costafeda — who may connect with Spain’s predominantly young cinemagoers.

Diversifying revenue streams, Continental has partnered in 1-year-old international sales consortium Latido. Returns are modest but encouraging, says Casal, repping 6% of Continental reveune in 2004, up from 3% a year before.

And it is plowing into TV movies, producing six made-for chillers with Antonio Chavarrias’ Oberon Cinematografica.

Casal plans to fortify DVD distribution beyond major cities via indie DVD distrib Cameo and is broaching straight-to-free TV preems with broadcasters. Continental’s partners include savings bank Gescaixa and Rosalia Mera, the former wife of Zara shop founder –welcome boosts from the private sector.

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