TV Azteca, Televisa battle on bigscreen

Televisa’s film arm Videocine has picked up production again after a hiatus spurred by a shake-up in its management, while Mexico’s No. 2 web TV Azteca has launched its own film distribution company.

Fernando Perez Gavilan, VP of Televisa Intl., took over Videocine following the exit last year of Videocine topper Eckehardt Von Damm. As head of Televisa’s global TV sales outfit, Perez brought a new spin to the company and clinched Televisa’s deal with Lionsgate to co-produce Spanish-language films for the U.S. and Mexican market.

Now Videocine is producing a slate of five low-budget films to be shot mostly on HD, with Lionsgate and Videocine splitting costs 50/50. Films will get theatrical release in Mexico and become part of Lionsgate’s growing Spanish-language DVD catalog.

“The strong point in the U.S. market is DVD and TV,” says Mineko Mori, head of acquisitions at Videocine. “You’re still really careful with theatrical releases due to the cost.”

The first film out of the partnership is “La divina confusion,” a comedy helmed by Salvador Garcini and currently in post-production. The second film in the deal is “Amor letra por letra,” another romantic comedy in pre-production set to be directed by Jorge Eduardo Reyes.

Last year, Videocine eclipsed Gussi as Mexico’s most successful indie distrib, driven by the strength of its local films “KM 31,” “Fuera del cielo,” and three other locally produced horror films.

“Having the media powerhouse of Televisa backing us up helps,” Mori says.

Pic showdown

Meanwhile, TV Azteca has been trying to build up its budding theatrical arm. Jose Juan Hernandez took over distribution operations last year at Azteca Films after exiting Fox’s local office.

“Rambo” was Azteca’s biggest release yet. Going out in more than 280 theaters, it came in No. 3 but had its butt kicked on a per-theater basis by “Juno” and “The Orphanage.” Insiders say that last year Azteca was putting out too many prints of films with mediocre prospects, like “Stormbreaker” and “My First Wedding.”

“They wanted to play like a major, but it hasn’t been working out for them,” says Francisco Eguren, managing programmer at Cinemex.

Mexican TV’s role in film will be questioned at one of the featured panels in Guadalajara on March 8. Government film institute officials and indie producers are gunning for film production to be included in a revamp of the nation’s media laws, currently being worked on in Congress.

Reformers want to see laws enacted similar to European states that require local webs invest in and show national films.

Last year, lobbyists and pols used Guadalajara as a forum to lambaste market conditions in Mexico, where major distribs are accused of wielding monopoly-like power to put out as many prints as they like of the latest blockbuster, as well as locking in prime exhibition real estate for their less-attractive properties. The threat of legislation turned into a brokered agreement in December among producers, exhibs and distribs to give more favorable conditions to domestic films.

This year the targets are TV companies, say fest director Jorge Sanchez and Imcine head Marina Stavenhagen.

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