Quotas give screen time to local pix

Exhibitors to show homegrown films next to 'Spiderman'

BUENOS AIRES — Argentina has implemented quotas and other measures to bolster the exhibition of local films, the biggest change in the movie theater business since international multiplex giants entered the market in the early 1990s.

“We are defending (the local industry) in a market that has become savage,” says Jorge Coscia, prexy of the Argentine Film Institute (Incaa), the industry’s watchdog.

Hollywood is “a competitor that doesn’t hide its voraciousness. They have an 85% share of the Argentine market and are going for more,” he asserts.

It requires Cinemark, Hoyts Cinemas and other exhibitors to show a homegrown pic per screen each quarter. That means Village Cinemas, for example, must show 64 local films per year at its 16-plex in the ritzy Recoleta district.

Exhibitors must also keep showing a domestic film even if theater occupancy dips to 6%-25%, less than the 40% market standard previously used, and they can’t change screening times midweek.

Local producers lobbied for the measures, saying exhibitors were restricting local pics despite strong sales to make room for huge releases of Hollywood blockbusters.

Martin Rejtman’s cabby comedy “Los Guantes magicos” (The Magic Gloves) sold 8,500 tix on seven screens in its first week, above the 1,000 per screen considered a strong first-week run for a medium-budget local pic. Even so, exhibitors cut “Gloves” to three to four screenings from five after the first week, and rescheduled it at worse times like 11 a.m., says producer Hernan Musaluppi of Rizoma Films. The new law will prohibit midweek sked changes.

The measures come as the box office is booming and exhibitors are rekindling expansion projects. Ticket sales are expected to hit a record 45 million this year, up from 33.7 million in 2003.

Yet in the first half, domestic pics hardly profited from a 46% surge in ticket sales. Of the 22.26 million, “Gloves” and other homegrown releases took only 6.5%, less than a 10%-15% average share in recent years.

Only Juan Jose Campanella’s working-class drama “La luna de Avellaneda” (Avellaneda’s Moon) made the top-10 list, with 640,000 admissions.

Much of the reason for implementing the screen regulation at the start of winter was so “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Shrek 2” and “Spider-Man 2” — each released on 120-150 prints — wouldn’t overshadow two domestic crowdpleasers, Incaa’s Coscia says. The pop-band road pic “Erreway: 4 caminos” (Erreway: 4 Roads) and the animated epic “Patoruzito” could push the local industry’s share of admissions above a long-running ceiling of 20% this year.

The Argentine Chamber of Multiplex Exhibitors, whose members include Cinemark, Hoyts and Village, is against the screen quotas. “Nobody tells the public what to see,” says prexy Leo Racauchi.

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