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Is English-Lingo ‘Master of Altamira’ the Symbol of New Euro Pix?

A crop of films ignore the youth market, instead aiming at families and older auds

With the film biz ailing on the plains in Spain, any new production is news. But “The Master of Altamira,” skedded to start production this year, is noteworthy as a microcosm of trends now driving international film production.

Like many other European projects, it will lense in English. It’s not targeted at a youth market, but at older audiences. And it’s one more example of Euro producers determined to make movies without depending on the U.S. market for either finance or recoupment.

Spain’s Alvaro Longoria, producer of Steven Soderbergh’s “Che” and director of the Javier Bardem-produced “Sons of the Clouds,” will produce the pic, from a screenplay by Olivia Hetreed (who scripted “The Girl With a Pearl Earring”).

The film is set up at Spain’s Morena Films, one of a dozen Spanish shingles still producing sizable movies. “Altamira” financing will mix co-production coin from Andy Paterson’s Archer Street Prods. (producer of “Pearl Earring”) and Spain’s Atresmedia Cine, the film arm of broadcaster Atresmedia Group, plus international presales and Spanish tax coin. Longoria is in negotiations with an international sales agent.

As broadcasters worldwide seek to air more audience-friendly films, English-lingo pics with name actors achieve far higher sales figures.

The major challenge of English-language production, said U.S. sales agent Mark Damon at a Film Finance TV panel at Cannes, is that filmmakers pin hopes on a shrinking list of talent: “We are all so dependent on presales for financing that we all go for the same actors and directors who are considered salable for high-budget films.”

Longoria countered that the value of actors on international productions is different than in North America. Citing Ewan McGregor as an example, Longoria said, “You don’t need (the very) top names to drive sales on a midbudget film by European standards if you’re thinking of financing a film from outside the U.S.”

“Altamira” is out to European directors. The Cannes festival and market were marked by a flurry of such English-language films as Guillaume Canet’s “Blood Ties,” Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Only God Forgives” and Arnaud Desplechin’s “Jimmy P.” That trend will inevitably show up again at Toronto and the American Film Market later this year.

“Altamira,” based on actual events of 1879, centers on an 8-year-old girl who stumbles on Stone Age caves, and her father’s battle to prove that the intricate paintings are genuine. The father-daughter relationship means the film is aimed at family audiences, a growing target for international productions.

“Cinemagoers are increasingly made up of older adults and families. It’s increasingly difficult for independent producers to monetize younger audiences, (who) pirate films, and have other leisure interests,” Longoria said.

Many sales agents agree with that approach. “Those of us who are in the independent financing business on any prolific level are looking for (films) that can play a little more broadly, more female, skew older, play the 50-plus crowd,” said Stuart Ford at IM Global, which saw robust international sales on Martin Scorsese’s “Silence.”

Focus Features Intl., which announced a slew of Cannes-driven international sales on Mike Leigh’s next pic (with Sony Classics distributing in several key territories), also embraced that approach. Focus’ Alison Thompson maintained that older audiences are more loyal and reliable. “You can stretch your P&A spend further if you’re able to precisely define the target audience,” she said.

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