Latin exhibs blast high local taxes

ShowEast sessions highlight indigenous film funding

ORLANDO — Grousing by Latin America distribs and exhibs over box office taxes to fund indigenous film production highlighted international sessions at ShowEast Wednesday.

Throughout the region, B.O. is commonly sapped by double-digit levies intended to divert revenue to support local moviemaking. Even distribs whose studios are involved in locally based co-prods suggested the taxes and other restrictive government regs are hampering exhibition growth in the region.

“This is a critically important time for our industry and a particularly critical time for Latin America,” said Bill Murray, co-chief operating officer at the Motion Picture Assn. trade group.

But though there was little disagreement over the nature of the problem, there wasn’t a lot of consensus over what to do about it.

Diego Lerner, ShowEast 2001’s international distrib honoree and prexy of Buena Vista Intl.-Latin America, suggested one approach might be to show more flexibility in negotiating with regulators.

“We should accept the reality in order to come to a more balanced position,” Lerner said.

Complete disagreement

“I couldn’t disagree more with what Diego said,” countered Jorge Peregrino, regional veep at distrib United Intl. Pictures. B.O. tariffs and restrictive regs must be completely opposed, Peregrino said.

General Cinemas Theaters’ international exec Paul Del Rossi suggested the real problem hasn’t been the industry-specific response to burdensome regs, but rather a lack of forward-looking planning.

“It seems to me if I were to characterize our behavior in the motion picture industry, it has been more reactive than one of taking initiative,” Del Rossi said. “We shouldn’t be in the problem-solving business. We should be in the strategy-setting business.”

Steve Solot, MPA’s senior veep for Latin America, underscored the point.

“To undo a box office tax once it’s legislated is very difficult,” Solot stressed.

Well represented

Ensconced in a large Marriott convention hotel here for the second year, ShowEast offers good proximity to the large Latin American exhibition market. So, most of the roughly 12% of international attendees numbered among the trade show’s almost 1,100 registrants are from Central and South America.

Meanwhile, some stats trotted out by UIP’s Peregrino pointed to robust industry growth in Latin America and the region’s growing importance as an exhibition market.

Over a five-year span through 2000, annual B.O. in the region grew 28% to $799 million, and admissions climbed an even more impressive 31% to 292 million. Admissions outpaced B.O. growth, because currency devaluation over the period caused average ticket prices to fall 7% to $2.73.

Among other presentations, international showgoers got glimpses of distribs’ regional release slates for coming months. Trailers screened included those for high-profile pics previously released in the U.S., such as sequel laffer “American Pie 2” and Robert Redford actioner “The Last Castle,” as well as films yet to debut anywhere including Tom Cruise starrer “Vanilla Sky” and Matt Damon-toplined “The Bourne Identity.”

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