On multiple fronts, Mauricio Macri’s new Argentine government has sought to reverse the policies of those put into place over 12 years by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her deceased husband Nestor Kirchner.
In cinema, in a transition applauded by the local industry, it is not, however, seeking to tear down the Kirchners’ strong government support for local filmmaking but rather take it further.
Doing so, it rolls off recent success. From 2013, Argentina became Latin America’s only country, apart from Brazil, whose films regularly punch a double-digit share at Argentina’s box office, that cut tracking at 12.9% of cinema theater grosses through mid-September this year. Argentina’s top directors, such as Pablo Trapero (“The Clan”), Santiago Mitre (“Paulina”) and Lisandro Alonso (Viggo Mortensen-starrer “Jauja”) have won big prizes at Cannes and Venice.
That surge can be put down in part of course not just to the government but the caliber of directors and producers, a muscular promotion from local broadcaster Telefe and distribution by Hollywood studios in and outside Argentina, plus a growing line is amped-up multi-lateral art-film co-productions with Spain, such as “Wild Tales,” one of the world’s highest-grossing foreign-language movies in 2014-15.
As elsewhere, however, the number of Argentine movies really lighting a fire at their local box office has been highly limited.
125 Argentine movies bowed at the domestic box office this year; only 10 have grossed above $1 million, estimates Ultracine, a box office analysis website.
Macri’s government would like that number to grow. On Sept. 29, Argentina’s Minister of Culture, Pablo Avelluto, presented a new Plan de Fomento para la Industria Cinematografica, a film industry promotion plan which overhaul’s Argentina’s subsidy system.
In all, going forward, the government will set aside Pesos 930 million ($60.7 million) for annual movie support,up on Mexican public-sector backing of about 800 Mexican pesos a year ($40 million). Other highlights:
*Given as grants, Argentine subsidies now vary according to film type and potential spectatorship. “Mass audience” fiction features tap up to Pesos 14.5 million ($946,000) from Argentina’s Instituto de Cine y Artes Audiovisuals (ICAA), Pesos 12 million ($783,000) if made for “mid-sized audiences.”
*In an innovation, incentives are now offered at every stage of a film’s value chain beginning, crucially, with development (Pesos 400,000 ($26,000) for fiction features/toon pics) and screenwriting (Pesos142,000, $9,267).
*Animation features are broken out for special subsidies, capped at Pesos17 million ($1.1 million) for feature production.
*INCAA will support burgeoning regional production hubs in Argentina, offering grants of Pesos5.5 million ($359,00) to 12 features produced outside Buenos Aires.
*Grants now take in the digital sphere, with web movies drawing down up to Pesos 6.4 million ($418,000).
*Some subsidies will be reserved for first and second features, INCAA president Alejandro Cacetta said at the Promotion Plan’s presentation in Buenos Aires, to a packed industry audience.
The Plan reflects the more market-orientated economics of Macri’s government. “We must make Argentine culture bigger and more modern, help it reach new markets with more and better audiences,” said culture minister Pablo Avelluto.
The Promotion Plan had been drawn up after industry consultation, begun back in January. Given that, the industry looks to be backing the Plan.
“The new plan is a step ahead for the filmmaking community in Argentina. It reflects the evolving nature of our industry and the challenges that movies are facing today,” said producer Axel Kuschevatzky, head of film production at Telefe.
Most encouraging , he argued, is the plan’s deep understanding of different needs for different movies, ranging from first-time features to short films and including animation, documentaries, big and small movies alike and – especially – script development.”
“I celebrate that this new plan contemplates all stages of film production and believe it’s also good that this new plan continues the previous government’s efforts to decentralize film production in a country where 80% of producers are based in the city of Buenos Aires,” said Agustina Llambi Campbell, at Buenos Aires-based La Union de los Rios, producer of Santiago Mitre’s “The Student,” Paulina” and now “The Summit.”
Her most major concern was that, “if it is an ‘audience targeted plan,’ INCAA will double its efforts for local audience engagement with Argentinean cinema, without minimizing its support for author, risky, more commercially-fragile projects that are the ones (generally speaking) that have given a good name to Argentinean cinema internationally.”
The bottom line may be, however, that, as other Latin American countries begin to suffer economic downturn – tax-driven movie investment is plunging in Brazil, for instance – Argentine’s new government, despite recession, is standing by its national cinema.