Catalan gov’t poses threat to Hollywood pix

New culture minister may press for more Catalan prints

BARCELONA — New Catalan president Jose Montilla named academic Juan Manuel Tresserras culture and communications minister Tuesday, prompting the possibility of new headaches for Hollywood majors in Spain.

Tresserras’ appointment follows general elections Nov. 1. As in 2003, these have produced a three-way, broad left-wing front between the Catalan Socialist Party (PSC), the Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the Catalan Greens (IVC).

His naming coincides to the day with Spain’s national Congress’ approving the “necessity” to create a new Film Law for Spain.

The legislation’s details will be thrashed out by Spain’s lower house over the next month. But, in proposing 15 amendments, ERC, Catalonia’s most radically nationalist party, backed the subtitling of films into Catalan, Basque and Galician. ERC goes further on its own Web page, supporting the dubbing of foreign films — read Hollywood fare — into Catalan.

Dubbing into local Spanish languages is vehemently opposed by Spain’s exhibitors and distributors — majors and indies alike. Objections range from the cost of extra prints and dubbing to the fact that local-lingo releases, as opposed to Spanish-dubbed movies, underperform by up to 40% at the B.O. in urban centers.

As an appointee of the ERC, Tresserras, an independent, will no doubt support new attempts to get more films into Catalan.

But who pays, how many copies will be required — or whether the Catalan government will pursue the softer option of subtitling rather than dubbing, maybe hand-in-hand with a push for online distribution and digital cinemas in Catalonia — are questions that still have to be resolved.

The cost and B.O. losses of dubbing into Catalan is no minor issue. Boasting Barcelona as its capital, Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest regions. With a total 25.9 million admissions in 2005, Catalonia, if independent from Spain, would rank as the E.U.’s sixth largest cinema market. But only 10% of movie releases last year had Catalan-lingo versions, and Catalan-lingo pics accounted for 3.2% of total tix sold.

Sources at ERC, Spanish distribution lobby Fedicine and exhibition assn. FECE were not available for comment.

Tresserras’ appointment also prompts a second question: The extent, if at all, to which he will dismantle a sophisticated broad-based Catalan state support for cinema that has helped turn Catalonia into Spain’s most vital filmmaking region.

Apart from hiked subsidies, recent measures have included an Audiovisual Development Center, an Auteur Cinema fund, a new Mesfilms state equity fund for bigger international pics, and a larger endowment for promotion consortium Catalan Films & TV.

Aided by enthusiastic backing from pubcaster TVC, Catalan produc-tion has skyrocketed from 17 films in 1999 to 42 in 2005; admissions in Catalonia for Catalan pics (mostly made in Spanish or even English) more than doubled, 2001-05, to 1.3 million.

The program of Catalonia’s new government speaks of the need “to strengthen commercial policies” for Catalan cinema. With other fish to fry, such as, as minister for communication, improving the image of the Catalan government, Tresserras may adopt the motto: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

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