Mar del Plata: Argentina B.O. Surges, Novel Virtual Print Fee Scheme Bows

B.O.,Argentine movies surge, INCAA Film Institute essays novel VPF incentive

No Kids - Maribel Verdu
Courtesy of FilmSharks Intl

MAR DEL PLATA:  Argentina’s box office looks set for an all-time record B.O. peso trawl in 2015 as it ended October 20% up year-on-year on 2014.

Part reason: the Argentine film industry’s dramatic and sustained home market surge. Now, Argentina’s INCAA Film Institute, a partner with the Cannes Festival and Market in mega-mart Ventana Sur, aims for more, hoping that build will grow all the more as it introduces a novel Virtual Print Fee (VPF) incentive to help Argentina’s indie distributors defray the costs of paying VPFs to exhibitors on local and indie movies, including from the U.S.

Through October, total admissions in Argentina – for foreign and local movies – reached 47 million, 20% up on 2014, and beating 2013’s figure for the whole year, then a modern record. In 2015, B.O. will pass 50 million, a new modern high, Lucrecia Cardoso, president of Argentina’s INCAA Film Institute told Variety at the Mar del Plata Festival.

Argentine annual box office was only 34 million in 2003. First half ticket sales in Argentina in 2015 were higher than in 1986, home entertainment consumption and piracy notwithstanding, Cardoso added.

Reasons for the box office surge cut several ways: Cardoso said: “There been a recuperation in consumer levels among less-monied classes after years of crisis late last century: the growth of Argentina’s exhibition park, which plunged to 600 screens, is now around 1,000.”

Also, more people are seeing more Argentine films. Damian Szifron’s Oscar-nominated “Wild Tales” punched 3.4 million admissions in 2014, Pablo Trapero’s “The Clan,” this year’s Argentine juggernaut, has cumed 2.7 million. But eight Argentine movies sold 100,000 tix in 2014, 11 to date this year, Cardoso observed. 10% in 2012 – already a good result compared to prior years – Argentine films’ local market share powered up to 15% in 2014, and 18% last year. Local movies sold 7.5 million admissions in 2013, over 8 million in 2014. Through October, that figure has reached 7.2 million this year.

Also, this year’s hits run a wide gamut, Cardoso argued, from abduction thriller “The Clan” to comedies – “No Kids” – dramas – “Truman” – and YA near-melodrama: “Abzurdah.”

A few years ago, in Argentina, only Ricardo Darin and Guillermo Francella were marquee draws. Now, said Cardoso, “We’re broadening the mainstream, the casts that get audiences going to the cinema.”

But Argentina’s government wants more. Digitization hit Argentina later than Europe, allowing the government to be prepared. In one initiative, it offered five-year low-interest credit facilities to national exhibition loops, both multiplex and arthouse owners, allowing them to digitize theaters. That meant many did not have to look to VPF integration schemes, allowing them larger freedoms in programming, Cardoso observed.

Exhibition companies that do work with VPF integrators, however, operate about 50% of screens in Argentina. Now, in a second initiative, whose impact cinema authorities in and outside Latin America will track closely, Argentine distributors who release films on 40 or less copies – read national or foreign indie, arthouse or niche fare –can receive compensation from the INCAA worth the equivalent of 15 VPFs. National films released by national distributors on up to 120 copies – a high-medium spread: the first-frame print run for “Hotel Transylvania 2” on September 24-27 was 213 screens – can pull down INCAA coin for 40 VPF.

“Argentina always had large audiences for European and Latin American films but over the last years, and not just in Argentina, this audience has been decreasing,” Cardoso said.  Measure, known as Resolution 2384, “mitigates distributors’ risk, helps to place films with exhibitors, and aids the diversity of films on offer,” she added.

Kicking in December, scheme may also goose overall box office, argued Ariel Direse, INCAA general coordinator, digitization and new audiovisual technologies. Not having to pay so many VPFs to exhibitors, Argentine distributors will have more money for P & A. A more diversified distrib sector targets niche auds.

Abroad, the INCAA is driving into international co-production – it has backed Mar del Plata’s LoboLab co-production forum, which kicked off Wednesday night, for example – and is seeking to leverage co-pro pacts to facilitate distribution. Argentina’s bilateral Latin American co-production accords increasingly feature distribution aid as well, Cardoso observed.

Argentina is also pushing to reach a co-production agreement with China, allowing official co-productions to be released in China as a part of country’s distribution quota for foreign films, Cardoso announced. The INCAA is moreover discussing a film-TV co-production accord with Russia.

On Monday, INCAA announced three Argentina-Morocco productions which will take advantage of the two countries’ in-place co-production agreement: “El llamado del desierto,” by Pablo Cesar; “Ouissal,” directed by Hernan Findling; and “2117,” a collective film produced by Cine Fértil y Hassan El Youbi, a FX director on James Cameron’s “Avatar.” Argentina and Morocco film authorities will drive to hike the number of co-productions in the future, Cardoso anticipated.