The French Fry, Brazil Builds, Russia Marches with SpongeBob
The Doha Film Institute and Participant Media announced a $100 million film fund for a slate of English-language movies. This follows several DFI-funded pics like “Black Gold” that reflected the region but disappointed at the B.O., although this may change with Mira Nair’s “The Reluctant Fundamentalist,” which opens in April. The dilemma for film investors in the Gulf: how to invest in movies that help build a local industry, but don’t take a loss.
Reliance Games, part of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group (a major investor in DreamWorks), has entered the Japanese and Korean gaming markets. Subsid Reliance Big Entertainment Japan has acquired the gaming division of Funnel Japan along with its team and all its IPs under development, and has created Reliance Games Japan. In Busan, RBEJapan has bought a 51% stake in gaming studio Bluesom along with some IPs. Both units will develop IPs targeted to local consumers, and will be responsible for developing multiplayer mobile games for Western markets.
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An increasing numbers of Indians are consuming data on their mobile phones, according to a biannual survey conducted by Nokia India. Data consumption was 1.67 petabytes (one petabyte equals 1 billion gigabytes) between July and December 2012.
(From the pages of the March 26 issue of Variety.)
The Russian military has adopted the “SpongeBob SquarePants” theme, with soldiers singing the song as they march along. A clip posted on English Russia, an English-language blog reviewing Russian pop culture, has been viewed by 306,000 in its first month.
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Writer-performer Stephen Fry flew to Russia to probe local treatment of the LGBT community. He is shooting a docu called “Out There” for the BBC on homosexuality in various countries. Fry tweeted:
Hope I haven’t created an international incident by looking at pic of Putin & observing to the press that he looks like Dobby the House Elf—
Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) March 14, 2013
Yoshimoto Kogyo, a company that reps more than 800 performers, is partnering with Chicago-based Second City to train clients in comedy improv/standup techniques. “Eventually we plan to open theaters for Second City-style comedy, one in Tokyo and one in Osaka,” explains Hiroshi Osaki, prexy of Yoshimoto, which also boasts a range of media interests. The local style of comedy on TV and stage is called “manzai.” It focuses heavily on comedy duos who get laughs from rapid patter, scripted skits and occasional punches thrown at the “funny” man by the straight man. Osaki says it’s time to expand on the 101-year-old Yoshimoto: “We want to stimulate our people in new ways.”
Screen Australia reports that spending from foreign film companies (including the U.S.) has plummeted to 2% (about $2 million) of total production spending in the past two years, down from the high of 38% of the total production spend (around $137 million) in 1994-95 and 1999-2000. The recent figures do not include “The Wolverine,” which falls in the current financial year, or “The Great Gatsby,” which is considered an Australian movie.
Slim was slimmed. Shares in Carlos Slim’s Mexican telco colossus America Movil fell 11% in eight days after Mexico’s new president Enrique Pena Nieto announced stiff penalties on local telcos that control more than half their markets — and abolished foreign telco ownership limits. American Movil owns 70% of mobile and landlines. The reforms also clear spectrum space for two new national networks, allowing non-Mexicans to control 49% of broadcasters.
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Stats show just 12 million of Mexico’s 115 million inhabitants went to the cinema last year. With new media opening up, and content-hungry TV webs on the horizon, Hollywood and key Mexican producers-distributors are directing their energies outside plexes.
The European Commission has proposed allowing U.S. film and TV players to qualify for pre-financing benefits and subsidies, which would effectively end France’s quota system. (TV channels in France must dedicate 60% of their skeds to European programs.) Hollywood has been losing market share in various Euro territories, so a free-trade treaty with the 27 EU countries would be El Dorado. The official debate begins this summer, and promises to be prolonged, with Euros already complaining.
Til Schweiger reinforced his status as Germany’s top star on two fronts. His debut March 10 as the star of the long-running TV crime series “Tatort” attracted 12.6 million viewers, a 34 audience share. And his Warner Bros. comedy “Kokowaah 2″ has taken $22.3 million in six weeks at the local box office; it’s a sequel to Germany’s highest-grossing film of 2011. A Hollywood remake of the first film is in the cards, with Bradley Cooper set to play the lead.
President Obama, speaking to Israeli students in Jerusalem March 23, got whoops and applause when he opened his speech by name-dropping one of Israel’s most searing political-satire TV shows. Emphasizing all is cool with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he deadpanned, “Any drama between me and my friend Bibi over the years was just a plot to create material for “Eretz Nehederet.” … We just wanted to make sure the writers had good material.”
Hollywood and Brazil’s local pic industry look to be the major beneficiaries of the country’s growing plexing. Last year, B.O. spiked 16% to a best-ever 1.6 billion reals ($808.1 million). Nearly half of that jump was attributed to the 51 cinemas that opened in 2012. The country is still vastly underscreened, and Brazilians on average go to the cinema less than once a year.
Latin American film festivals see growth and global branding in reaching out to their higher-profile colleagues. On March 26, Buenos Aires’ film fest Bafici (April 10-21) will unveil a rich lineup and confirm details of Buenos Aires Lab Goes to Cannes: Bafici Work in Progress (WIP), which screens the best of April’s BAL pics on the Croisette on May 21.
Compiled by Timothy M. Gray
Reported by Leo Barraclough, John Hopewell, Debra Kamin, Elsa Keslassy, Naman Ramachandran, Mark Schilling, Nick Vivarelli