Four micro-pic shingles recently bowed

MADRID – After a tough decade, Spain’s specialty market is coming back. The surest sign is a new generation of distribs, some of which will be bringing shopping carts to the AFM.

Four micro-pic shingles recently bowed: Jose Luis Fernandez Caldas’ Gaia Films, Ignacio Lamarca’s Stardis Pictures, Ramon Colom’s Sagrera and Javier Asenjo’s Bistel Films. A trio are one year or less old: Adolfo Blanco’s Notro Films, Xavier Catafal’s Isaan and Antoni Badimon’s Baditri. Established buyers Golem Distribucion and Diorama are boosting acquisitions, while Diorama’s eying digital distribution.

Spain’s specialty rebound doesn’t constitute a full recovery, though — but major changes in Spain’s film landscape have paved the way for the startups. Crossover buyer DeAPlaneta’s moved mainstream; Vertigo sidestepped into crossover fare ; vet art distrib Wanda now focuses on Latin American co-production. Other speciality distribs like Manga and Lauren slowed pickups in light of collapsing pay TV buys.

“These moves opened up market opportunities,” says Notro CEO Blanco. Toppers from Notro, Isaan, Baditri and Stardis ankled larger distribs hoping the recent changes could pay off for smaller films. Total  B.O. (to Sept. 30) for Spanish specialty distribs rose 36% to e46.6 million ($56.4 million) over the same period last year, repping 11% of total B.O., per Nielsen EDI Spain.

Meanwhile, Spain’s total B.O. tumbled 13%. Though the population is aging, “Hollywood isn’t making films for over 25s,” says Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn, Alta Films acquisition head. “Specialty films fill the age gap.”

Spain’s arthouse crowd still likes seeing films at hardtops. And the older specialty fans are conversant with iPods, vidgames and cell phone programming, but as obsessed as younger viewers.

P&A expenses are a huge problem for distributors of wide appeal pics — broadcasters Telecinco and Antena 3 raised first half ad prices by more than 20%. But while mainstream pics demand TV advertising, specialty titles often do without.

Distribs might buy mid-range U.S. titles for a $1 million minimum guarantee, but P&A is “easily more,” says Filmax marketing director, Carlos Rojano. Specialty distribs can sometimes take some A out of P&A, relying on more stably priced press advertising, reviews, festival buzz and word-of-mouth, says Kuhn. Alta spent $730,000 on P&A for “The Chorus.” But it topped Spanish charts “with just press and San Sebastian publicity,” says Kuhn, who recently acquired “Seven Virgins.”

“The speciality business model is little P&A and recoup from theatrical,” says Blanco. So Spain’s speciality mavens are getting out their wallets. New shingle buys include:

n Acquiring DVD/TV but eying theatrical pickups, Stardis is buying Asian horror/action titles such as Thailand’s “Unhuman.”

n Skewing upscale factual, Sagrera has taken docus “Mondovino” and “The Take.”

n Bistel’s targeting groundbreaking fare, taking Celluloid Dreams pick-up “DR9.”

n More in the classic arthouse vein, Gaia’s first pick up is Moroccan road movie “Le Grand voyage.”

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