Galician film industry faces challenges

Region struggles with financing, distribution

Galician actor Luis Tosar (“Miami Vice”) sits on a granite staircase gazing at his spectator shoes. “La Rusa,” a faux blonde prostitute (Nora Tschirner), shivers beside him, under the moonlight.

A junkie rides up on a pushbike:

“It’s the End of the World Tour. No doping, just morning-time methadone.”

In “Spleen,” now shooting in Galicia’s cathedral city of Santiago de Compostela, Tosar plays a feckless bohemian, a happy loser.

“Spleen’s” luckier: It’s the kind of Galician film many people want to make.

It’s helmed by a first-time director, Alfonso Zarauza; made by two go-ahead production houses, Perro Verde and Iroko; it’s got Tosar, the drug lord of Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice”; and it already has distribution suitors, Iroko officials say.

Not all Galician films will enjoy this luxury.

Led by Catalonia and Galicia, Spain’s rural northwest, regional financing has galvanized Spanish film production, topping $45 million in 2006. But Galicia’s film industry now faces large challenges — in finance and distribution. Its future depends on rapid solutions for both.

Galicia’s movie malaise is Spain’s at large. Through August, the market share for Spanish films tumbled to 8%. Audiences are cold-shouldering midsize to smaller films. That includes most Spanish productions.

Of Galician pics, the Bren Studios-produced “The Hairy Tooth Fairy” grossed x3.6 million ($4.9 million), the best perf for a Spanish pic in the last 10 months.

Jorge Algora’s “The Mud Boy,” a real-life Argentina-set period chiller, made a creditable $164,965 for a little-known director.

Other films underperformed.

“Three types of films still triumph in Spain,” says Voz Audiovisual’s Carlos Carballo: “big U.S. movies; (pics made by) Spain’s two- or three-star directors; (and) broadcaster-backed event movies,” such as Voz’s $13.5 million true-life espionage thriller “Garbo,” set up at Antena 3.

But what were once Galicia’s biggest film producers — Voz, Continental and Filmanova — have turned to TV for growth, successfully plying unscripted fare and exports.

Catalonia’s TV3, Andalusia’s Canal Sur and Basque ETB1 have commissioned redos of historical reality show “A Casa do 1906,” a Filmanova/Continental-produced hit on Galician pubcaster TVG.

“We’re exporting co-production rights and know-how. Formats have a large future,” Filmanova prexy Anton Reixa says.

Voz aims to sell fiction formats to production houses outside Galicia. The first project up is “Desaparecida,” with Ganga TV.

But while an established generation of producers is pulling out of pic production, a younger generation is pulling in: Vaca, Perro Verde and IB Cinema.

Galicia’s Xunta government is focusing on growing its young local talent pool. Newish producers are priming projects, many by new local directors. The region boasts some standout recent shorts: Pedro Alonso Correidora’s “The Theory of the Mirror,” a haunting fable of time reversal; Juan Pablo Etcheverry’s arty plasticine “Minitauromaquia”; and Isabel Aguavives’ observant “The Punishment,” relating a childhood with telling magical realism.

Another highlight is Susana Rey’s often funny mockumentary “Cousas de Kulechov,” about a fictitious invasion of Galicia, and the mendacities of montage, the media and war.

So there’s talent in Galicia. But is there a market?

Galician public coin is capped: a maximum $440,000 in Xunta coin, around $338,000-$405,600 from TVG.

A modestly budgeted x1 million ($1.35 million) film still needs subsidy coin from Spain’s central Ministry of Culture and a nationwide broadcaster presale just to cover costs. Such presales aren’t easy, either. And theatrical release for smaller titles is becoming difficult to impossible.

“Any government action must sync with market trends in Spain and Europe. Otherwise, we’ll miss a historical train: the consolidation of the sector,” Xunta communication secretary general Fernando Salgado says.

Already, teaming with Argentina, Catalonia and Andalusia, Galicia operates Raices: With $800,000 the fund helps international productions, investing $200,000 in them if they have distribution in the participating territories. Galicia has just inked a similar accord with Brazil’s Ancine film authorities.

“We must incorporate private-sector finance and business structures into culture,” Salgado says.

Adds Galician Audiovisual Consortium manager Ignacio Varela: “We need a public-private sector risk capital fund investing in films with completion co-production finance. Those films must have Spanish distribution contracts in place.” Any such fund should also offer direct aid for the films’ distribution, he adds.

Some companies draw on diversification for bread-and-butter money: Adivina has a post-production business; IB distribs Galician films on DVD.

Until new financing is place, most film producers are turning to co-production.

“We have to leverage co-production to make more ambitious, more commercial and more interesting films,” Vaca producer Emma Lustres says.

“Co-production at least allows you to open theatrically in the co-producer’s country,” Algora notes.

Vaca and Telecinco Cinema are teaming on Daniel Monzon’s “Cell 211,” a gritty jail-set thriller. “Retornos,” another Vaca film, is set up with Argentina’s Patagonik.

Adivina will co-produce an adaptation of Argentine stage hit “Cita a ciegas” with an Argentine company, Algora says.

IB Cinema rolls next March on Adan Ariaga’s existential drama “Estigmas,” with Barcelona’s Nadir and Alicante’s Jaibo.

Tosar has created a production house, Zircocine. First project up is Jose Manuel Quiroga’s “Tocando Fondo,” with Madrid’s Lazona.

The question now is whether Galicia can raise the bar once more through new film financing, which attracts international shoots, promotes tourism and allows Galicians a piece in projects that can command an audience in and outside Spain.

“Spanish director Jose Luis Cuerda says that if you drop a camera in Galicia, any shot it takes will be valid. The audiovisual, especially film, is our principal vehicle for promotion and our international image. We must use it,” Salgado says.

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