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In the big league now

Woody Allen comes to Mediapro and Rodar goes English

Catalan Films & TV turned 20 this year, and its party at Cannes in May — music, food, dance — proved why it’s one of Europe’s most energetic promotion boards.

Since 1986, it has grown in budget, partners and even in name. CFTV hardly administers absolute beginners. Catalonia boasts internationally aggressive players:

n Filmax is a premier Spanish film exporter. Jaume Balaguero’s “Darkness,” distributed by Dimension, grossed $22.2 million Stateside. Filmax has sold 15 films for U.S. distribution to Lionsgate alone. “Over the next years, our stability and growth will come from international,” says Filmax chairman Julio Fernandez.

  • TV toon series walk the world stage. Cromosoma’s edutainment skein “The Three Triplets,” sold to 130 countries; Icon saw girl buddy series “Lola y Virginia” bow on the U.S.’s Animania; BRB’s “Bernard,” about a pudgy polar bear, proved a Mip Junior standout.

  • Sony Pictures Television Intl. teams with Manel Corbi’s Drimtim Entertainment to produce six action/thriller made-fors. The latest, Bryan Goeres-helmed “The Lost,” toplines Armand Assante as a bestselling writer settling old scores in Barcelona. SPTI handles DVD/TV distribution worldwide.

  • Rodar y Rodar joins with Guillermo del Toro to produce J.A. Bayona’s gothic chiller “The Orphanage.” “We hope to continue with Guillermo producing new young directors,” says Rodar co-owner Joaquin Padro.

  • Mediapro and Letty Aronson’s Gravier Prods. will produce a Woody Allen romantic drama, turning on a love entanglement with a sister’s femme friend, says Allen.

  • Catalan companies are forging co-production alliances: Oberon’s pact with Mexico’s Altavista has yielded “Aro Tolbukhin,” “You’ll Be Back,” “Nicotina” and “Celia’s Lives.”

  • Since 2005, Notro Films and DeAPlaneta have launched international sales ops.

Not all Catalan productions sell well, though its radical auteurs are feted at fests. “Honor de cavalleria” sold to France’s Capricci. Marc Recha’s most mainstream venture, “Where Is Madame Catherine?,” was co-produced by Jacques Bidou’s JBA Prods. in France.

But they have yet to break through to wider distribution. “France acts as a bellwether for whether a Spanish or European director gets worldwide distribution. There isn’t room for so many auteurs,” says Eddie Saeta’s Lluis Minarro.

The ability of private sector companies to react to market trends is key to international biz.

Filmax, says Fernandez, will spin off a vidgame from toon pic “Donkey Xote.”

TV toon production is moving toward “single-character- based entertainment,” says Cromosoma’s Toni Marin.

“(Animation will aim for) older targets, 8- to 12-year-olds,” predicts Icon’s Sergi Reitg. The genre also will incorporate “shorter formats, apt for multiplatform distribution,” per BRB’s Carlos Biern. There’s also the trend “toward on-demand toons,” adds Antoni D’Ocon, D’Ocon Films Prods. prexy.

Rodar is entering English-language filmmaking, prepping, with London’s Becker Films, a remake of “An Uncertain Guest.” The original’s director, Guillem Morales, will direct.

In such a context, how can public institutions intervene to further sales or co-production?

CFTV’s work is highly practical, which is not surprising. Its director, Angela Bosch, comes from the private sector, having headed up Lolafilms’ international sales.

CFTV creates product catalogs, aids subtitling and hosts exhibition space at 14 markets including Mip TV, Cannes and Mipcom.

It’s a knowledge and networking facility. CFTV advises producers on festivals — CFTV had 86 films at 176 fests last year — and suitable potential co-production partners. It organizes meetings with foreign producers and distributors.

Producers particularly praise a recent joint business trip to Los Angeles.

International co-productions reached 11 last year, driven by Filmax’s linking with London’s Future Films on four pics, tapping co-production and tax coin. A further 26 pics, 14 with Latin America, were approved as Catalan co-productions last year.

That’s a huge leap from just one international co-production in 1999.

Medium to small Spanish pics seeking co-production coin in France traditionally face the roadbump of a French partner’s difficulty in tying down financing from French broadcasters. That problem may be eased as the Catalan government advances on bilateral co-production accords with the L’Ile-de-France and Nord Pas de Calais.

Ultimately, however, foreign biz for Catalan companies will depend on the product: “It’s a problem of what kind of films we make, and how we make them,” says Minarro.

Over 2002-05, pubcaster TVC put up $15.5 million a year in pre-buy coin. CFTV’s parent, the Catalan Institut of Cultural Industries (ICIC), has hiked subsidies, covering 10%-17% of budgets automatically.

Catalan pic productions skyrocketed from 17 in 1999 to 42 in 2005. But “the future challenge isn’t to make more but better films,” says ICIC director Xavier Marce.

Here, the ICIC has begun to diverge from Spanish state funding in general. Most central Spanish Culture Ministry subsidies are “automatic,” triggered by films’ B.O.

But the ICIC has reintroduced the concept of quality into state support. In 2005 it launched an Audiovisual Development Center and began backing a fund for co-productions between Argentina, Galicia and Catalonia.

Only three films receive Raices aid anually. The ICIC’s new Auteur Cinema incentives and Mesfilms, a state equity fund for higher-end international pics, also provide selective aid for certain kinds of films. State aid works best if it backs, not bucks, market trends. If not, it will be left unused. It’s simply too soon to see if back-to-basics insistence on quality bears fruit.

“Time will tell,” says Marce. “We need a couple of years to see if we’re going in the right direction.”

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