Exhibitors protest against language quotas

BARCELONA — More than 70% of cinema screens in Catalonia, one of the richest regions in Spain, were dark Monday as exhibitors staged a one-day strike in protest against the regional government’s move to force them to screen more films in the Catalan language.

According to the Catalan Exhibbers Guild, 76 theaters — repping 570 screens — will be on strike Monday.

Cinema loops are protesting Article 18 of a wide-ranging Catalan Audiovisual Bill that obliges half a film’s print-run to be dubbed or sub-titled into Catalan for their release in Catalonia. Ruling does not apply to small print runs of 16 copies or below on European movies.

The measure is expected to drive up P&A costs for leading distribs, especially the Hollywood majors.

But there’s a long way to go, and a lot of hard-bargaining, before the bill, currently hitting the Catalan parliament, finally makes it onto the statute books.

The new regs hardly came as a surprise — Catalonia’s culture ministry is run by the Catalan ERC nationalist party — but they’ve still caused a storm.

“We support the Catalan language but not with quotas or taxes,” Catalan Exhibbers Guild general secretary Pilar Sierra told i>Variety/i>.

According to Catalan government sources, just 2.9% of the foreign films released in Catalonia were dubbed or subtitled in Catalan, versus 97.1% in Spanish.

Exhibbers argue that’s because spectators largely want to see movies in Spanish.

Not true, says the government.

“Currently, the film offer doesn’t match the real demand. Catalan-language pubcaster TVC has an 18%-20% market share, and seven Spanish-language TV stations air in Catalonia,” said Xavier Parache, film-audiovisual finance director at its regional film board, the Catalan Institute of Cultural Industries.

Introduction of the language quotas will be staggered over five years; the digitalization of cinemas and prints will help cinemas target audiences, Parache added.

According to one cinema booker, the main concern for distributors is a domino effect: Once greenlit in Catalonia, language-quotas could spread to Spain’s Basque Country and Galicia, or other parts of Europe.

The Catalan government has already suffered one historic defeat on film quotas. In 1998, Jordi Pujol, then Catalan government president, announced Catalan dubbing quotas. A Catalan court effectively quashed the measure by nixing fines for quota non-compliance.

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