Argentina bows arthouses

First plex in chain being built in Buenos Aires

BUENOS AIRES — Argentine and Spanish producers including Daniel Burman, helmer of the country’s Oscar-contender “Derecho de familia” (Family Law), are building a $1.2 million three-plex in Buenos Aires, the first in an arthouse chain.

Arte Cinema, as the venture is known, plans to open 400-seat Arte Cinema Sur in June and build another three three-plexes in 2007-08, spending $1.2 million on each.

“There is a public for art films but no place to see them, no exhibition of independent films with good sound and picture quality,” Burman says.

Burman and Diego Dubcovsky, who are partners in producer BD Cine, are shareholders in Arte Cinema with Argentine producers Fernando Sokolowicz of Aleph Prods. and Pablo Rovito of El Puente Prods., and Jose Maria Morales of Madrid-based Wanda Films.

Many local and foreign specialty titles never get screened in the mainstream circuit of nearly 1,000 screens or are displaced by Hollywood blockbusters after two weeks and before turning a profit. Hollywood films take an average of 80% of box office receipts in Argentina.

Most of the 74 domestic releases last year drew less than 10,000 spectators each, with only two breaking one million and a handful hitting 200,000.

Local filmmakers complain that exhibs — the leaders are multinationals like Cinemark and Hoyts — put their films in poor slots, small theaters and yank them quickly even if they do well. Incaa now requires exhibs to show at least one national film every quarter based on the number of screens at each complex.

Arte Cinema will offer longer runs of films “so more people can get to see them,” Burman says.

The first plex has gained backing of the state. Incaa has handed it a credit for the project. The city government is improving plazas, sidewalks and lighting in the area to make it more appealing for spectators.

Arte Cinema is outfitting the plex in a former gay-porn theater in Constitucion, a seedy district near trendy San Telmo and three film schools. It is a major transport hub, with one million commuters passing through its bus and train terminal. It will have comfortable seating, a book and DVD shop and a thematic bar and restaurant.

The arthouse chain is the latest construction project between Argentine and Spanish investors.

Pablo Bossi of Argentina’s Pampa Films is working with Spanish producer-helmer Gerardo Herrero of Spain’s Tornasol Films to build a 12-plex in the hip Palermo district of the capital. Construction will start in June and doors open a year later, said Bossi, former prexy of Disney-backed producer Patagonik Film Group.

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