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Aurum's 'Passion' play gooses bottom line

MADRID — After two years of declining admissions, the tide in Spain has turned. B.O. through September increased 10.9% over the same period in 2003 to S493.8 million ($609.6 million). Total admissions rose 7.5% to 102.3 million, according to Nielsen EDI.

“The major factor driving the resurgence is product,” says Jose Manuel Pimenta, managing director at Nielsen EDI Spain.

Product aided Aurum Producciones — flush with holdover “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” ($7.7 million in 2004) and “The Passion of the Christ” ($14.3 million) — to the top of indie distribbers’ takings through September, netting $41.7 million and a 7% market share.

Aurum sits atop a shrinking sector — Spain’s indies have lost 6% market share in 2004 to U.S. studios, which hold 81% of total B.O.

One explanation is Miramax. Its preferred distributor until 2003 was Lauren Films. But in December, it closed an agreement for Buena Vista Intl. Spain to handle theatrical and video/DVD distribution on at least 15 upcoming titles. Unable to sell its product to pay TV, Lauren filed for a suspension of payments in June, although founder Antonio Llorens insists he won’t be closing his distrib ops.

Despite — or because of — some distribs’ difficulties, 2004 saw new operators emerge. Zeta Group launched mainstream On Pictures, and Adolfo Blanco bowed artpic boutique Notro Films.

Others have put on muscle. Aurum was acquired in spring by Canada’s Alliance Atlantis Motion Picture Distribution. And with former Buena Vista Spain exec Alvaro Zapata as its new prexy, DeAPlaneta has upped big movie acquisitions. DeAPlaneta is handling Spanish distribution of “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.”

“The new competition for U.S. pics will end up increasing prices paid for Spain,” laments TriPictures senior VP Luis Ortiz.

TV sales remain a tricky proposition, though there are some bright spots. In September, Spain’s dominant pay TV operator, Sogecable, unveiled minipackage acquisition agreements with principal artpic distribbers Alta Films, Golem, Musidora, Vertigo and Wanda.

RTVE also has announced a new slot for upscale indie fare. Generally, however, broadcasters are buying fewer movies for less per title.

DVD hasn’t proved a panacea. Video/DVD revenues dropped 1% to $207.5 million in the first half of 2004, according to Spain’s Union Videografica Espanola, pummeled by piracy and low retail prices.

Spain at a glance
B.O.: $610 million*
Top title: “Shrek 2” (UIP, $35 million*)
Recent pickups:
“Domino” (Aurum)
“Duck Season” (Notro Films)
“A Letter From an Unknown Woman” (Barton)
“Oldboy” (Lolafilms)
“Turtles Can Fly” (Alta)

Titles at AFM
Fragile: An English-lingo contempo ghost pic from scarefare specialist Jaume Balaguero (“The Nameless”), with an international cast headed by Calista Flockhart and Richard Roxburgh. (Filmax Intl.)
Ferpect Crime: Spanish-lingo Hitchcock pastiche, turning in department store skullduggery, from black comedy specialist Alex de la Iglesia (Sogepaq)
The Miracle of Candeal: Helmed by Oscar-winning Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”), pic tells the story of drummer Carlinhos Brown, who transformed a shabby Brazilian neighborhood through his music and self-help initiatives. (Lolafilms)

* through September 2004

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