Cannes-bound Iberian indies dodge pirates

MADRID — Spain’s embattled indie distribution sector continues to suffer from a lack of TV sales and the effects of rampant piracy.

According to recent estimations by Spanish rights collectors society SGAE, nearly 300 million pic files were downloaded in Spain last year. Piracy has weakened Spain’s DVD sector, with main distributors’ revenues dropping 5% to $436.9 million last year.

Yet, despite these problems, distributors returned cautiously to the table at February’s Berlin market. A survey of the tastes, hits and state of leading lights from Spain’s indie distribution sector:

AURUM

Spain’s top-grossing indie distributor in 2007, Aurum earned E36.0 million ($57.4 million) in theaters due to solid returns from “Next” ($7.5 million), “Hannibal Rising” ($5.2 million) and “The Messengers” ($3.23 million). “Love in the Time of Cholera” is Aurum’s best performance in 2008. In March, Jorge Vazquez was upped to general manager. Owned by Canada-based Alliance Films, Aurum has a three-year output deal from 2006 with Yari Film Group. Healthy relationship with Spanish TV broadcasters.

DEAPLANETA

Mainstream film distributor affiliate of publishing groups Planeta and DeAgostini, which also control broadcaster Antena 3 TV. Holds down an output deal on VOD titles with leading Spanish IPTV operator Imagenio. Grossed $53 million in 2007, thanks to “The Last Legion” ($6.4 million), “Premonition” ($5.9 million) and “Michael Clayton” ($4.3 million).

TRIPICTURES

The international market expects Tripictures’ forceful return to the table after the end of its long-term relationship with New Line, but films from this output deal still will be stocking Tripictures’ inventory through first quarter 2009. A boutique distrib, Tripictures handles nearly 14 pics a year, often star-driven titles. Also an international co-producer, partnering in big European co-production “Asterix at the Olympic Games,” the company’s best B.O. result of this year. Launched in December, “The Golden Compass” overperformed, taking $20.2 million, becoming 2007’s top-grossing indie-handled pic in Spain.

FILMAX

After slashing its acquisitions budget, Filmax is focusing on producing or co-producing both big- and low-budget pics, all aimed at international. Last year, it produced and distributed Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza’s zombie fest “REC,” budgeted at $2.4 million, which made $12.4 million in Spain alone. Upcoming titles include Brad Anderson’s “Transsiberian,” starring Woody Harrelson and Ben Kingsley. A groundbreaker in new media distribution, Filmax plans to launch before summer a worldwide film, TV and music online megastore.

ALTA CLASSICS

Spain’s top art film distributor, Alta took $25.8 million in Spanish theaters last year. Oscar winner “The Lives of Others” ($7.5 million) and Spanish Civil War drama “13 Roses” ($6.9 million) were Alta’s mainstays. Teamed with the Almodovar brothers’ El Deseo, Gerardo Herrero’s shingle Tornasol Films, Pancho Casal’s Continental and other auteur distributors — Golem, Wanda and Cameo — to launch Internet indie movie portal Filmin.es. Suffering the years’ old slowdown in TV sales: “La Vie en rose,” another Oscar-awarded pic, bought 15 months ago by Alta, still awaits a TV deal for Spain.

MANGA

One of Spain’s most ambitious indie distributors, Manga has recently flexed its financial muscle, acquiring rights on Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” from Paramount Vantage. Part of media-tech giant Vertice 360, which also integrates art pic distributors Notro and Versus Entertainment and film producer Telespan 2000. Vertice’s film acquisition policies are managed by vet exec Adolfo Blanco. Manga booked $18 million from Spanish theaters in 2007 with “Mr. Brooks” ($2.7 million) as top pic. Main successes this year include “Rambo.”

NEW WORLD FILMS

Popular indie distributor, the Comas’ family-managed boutique found its 2007 biggest hit in John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson’s thriller “1408,” gathering $5 million of a total $8.6 million B.O.

NOTRO FILMS

Also a film and TV producer, Notro is exploring new media options. Has renewed with broadcaster Antena 3 for a weekly indie pic slot called “The Sundance Night” broadcast via A3’s DTT service Neox, Spain’s top thematic channel. Betting on big European co-productions, Notro has just taken 10% on Galatee and Pathe’s $80 million nature docu “Oceans.” Spanish drama “Under the Stars” ($1.7 million), French comedy “Odette Toulemonde” ($1.7 million) and Korean horror-comedy “The Host” ($1.3 million) were Notro’s standouts in 2007.

ON PICTURES

Mainstream pic distrib owned by publishing group Zeta, which also produces pics and primetime TV dramas, Zeta has announced it will sell part of the company to grow in film, TV and new media sectors. Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” ($3.7 million) was On’s main hit of last year. Best 2008 successes include On’s own production “Mortadelo and Filemon: Mission Save the Planet” and Isabel Coixet’s “Elegy.”

GOLEM DISTRIBUCION

Fest pics distributor, also producer and exhibitor. Best 2007 B.O. performance was Jean Becker’s comedy “Conversations With My Gardener” ($1.6 million). Golem grossed $7.0 million in Spanish theaters last year. Its standout: Cannes winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.”

WANDA FILMS

Arthouse distributor and producer, Wanda gathered $6.4 million in theaters. Produces or co-produces pics by prestige Spanish and Latin American helmers, including upcoming titles by Carlos Sorin (“The Window”), Daniel Burman (“The Empty Nest”) and Goya-awarded Luis Rosales (“Tiro en la cabeza”). Handled by Wanda, Oscar winner “The Counterfeiters” is doing well in 2008 B.O.

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