One priority: larger local pic marketshare

MADRID

Overseeing local cinema’s fortunes in the world’s eighth biggest film market, Jorge Sanchez, the new head of Mexico’s Imcine film fund, has already set one major priority: Carving out larger marketshare for Mexican films.

Sanchez replaced Marina Stavenhagen Jan. 17 as head of Imcine, which oversees subsidies to local pic production, distribution and exhibition. His focus on marketshare — or Mexicans getting to see their own films via alternative channels — comes as the local industry suffers a paradox.

From a low of nine films in 1997, Mexico produced 90 films last year, with Imcine pumping 239.9 million pesos ($18.9 million) into subsidies for production and development.

However, even though Mexico’s total box office surged 9.4% to an all-time high $841 million in 2012, local films’ market share was just 4.4%.

“We’re happy to produce more films but our box office situation isn’t the most fortunate. That’s a critical point for the national cinema,” Sanchez told Variety.

It is something he aims to change.

To combat piracy and improve Mexicans’ access to national films, Sanchez is studying the creation of a VOD service — featuring classics, new directors’ movies and docu-features, which have flowered in Mexico over the last 20 years — made available for schools and public libraries plus community and cultural centers.

Some 62% of Mexicans admit to having bought bootlegged DVDs because of their low-cost and accessibility, according to a study by Mexico’s Evalua-DF.

“A legal, sometimes free-of-charge or low-cost Mexican film service could impact piracy strongly,” Sanchez added.

He will begin talks with exhibs, Cinepolis and Cinemex, who sell about 90% of cinema tickets, to explore how “Mexican cinema can be something Mexicans want to pay to see.”

Sanchez doesn’t look set to tear down the subsidy system, based on so-called Fidecine and Foprocine credit and equity financing, or to rescind Article 226 tax coin.

But he will call a national film forum this year, and begin industry consultations about how Mexican incentives could work better.

Sanchez’s market focus underscores a creeping sea-change in the way governments view cinema in the world’s key emerging markets now so dear to Hollywood.

From the 1990s, most developing countries’ public film incentives focused on building production levels. But economic growth spurred rampant multiplexing in China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico, making these ideal markets for Hollywood tentpoles.

Spurred by Sanchez, Mexico’s rebates for foreign shoots have attracted a growing number of foreign movies, including Mel Gibson’s “Get the Gringo” and Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium.”

Sanchez doesn’t question the rebates, which he describes as of “strategic interest.”

Few Mexicans have Sanchez’s breadth of industry experience.

In the early 1990s, he helped launch Mexico’s first generation of modern filmmakers, producing Maria Novaro’s “Lola” in 1989 and “Danzon” in 1991, and associate producing Guillermo del Toro’s debut, “Cronos.”

Directing the Guadalajara festival, he launched a film market, which still sets it apart from most Latin American fests.

Ankling Guadalajara in 2010, he established La Casa del Cine, a pioneering Mexico City production-distribution hub and community cinema center.

Arguably, however, Sanchez, now faces his largest challenge.

“Mexico’s film industry must be profitable, which means sizeable market share,” Sanchez argued. “But our films must also profit Mexico’s citizens who, with a subsidized film model like Mexico’s, in the final analysis finance our films.”

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