Spain seeks Catalan subtitles from H'wood

Authorities suggest tax or subsidies on dubbed films

MADRID -- Round 2 between U.S. majors and the regional government of Spain's wealthy Catalan region got under way Thursday as authorities said they want the Hollywood studios to dub and subtitle in the local language, not just in Spanish.

The move is aimed at bolstering the 3.5% of films presently released in Catalonia in Catalan or with Catalan subtitles to 50% in three years, with the remaining 50% of copies released in dubbed Spanish.

To foot the bill, the nationalist-minded regional authorities are suggesting a tax on dubbed films and subsidies for original-version subtitles.

The announcement, made as part of a proposed Film Law in Catalonia, comes 10 years after U.S. studios faced down a similar push by threatening to boycott distribution in the region.

But this time, regional authorities think they might get their way.

"We understand that the industry is more receptive now because of technological advances, and given the crisis in the traditional model and that the Catalan cultural system is stronger," culture secretary for the regional government Joan Manuel Tresserras said. "We also think that there's a strong probability of an absolute majority in the Catalan parliament for such a measure so that we can make it not just a decree (as in 1998), but a law."

According to the politician, "we know that certain sectors that have been reluctant in the past, see advantages now to changing their posture in an important market."

Indeed, Catalonia has become a key locomotive in the Spanish industry, representing just over 20% of Spain's film market last year. A vast majority of people living in the independent-minded region speak both Spanish and Catalan.

Spaniards overwhelmingly prefer dubbed movies, which cost about €50,000 ($63,000) to dub.

But for the regional authorities, it is a question of modernization.

"We're proposing to encourage the use of the original subtitled version so that there is a shift from the predominance in dubbing, given that our population is almost perfectly bilingual in Spanish and Catalan and we aspire for trilingual. And the education level allows for it."

Tresserras' government believes in the build-it-and-they-will-come philosophy.

"The (present situation) is not the result of the market forces. It's an inherited situation," Tresserras said, referring to Spain's history of government-imposed censorship on language and content in cinema during the Franco dictatorship. "Since there's no offer, there's no demand."

No one was available for comment Thursday at Fedicine, the federation of U.S. distributors that vehemently opposed the measure a decade ago, but Tresserras said their working relationship is good and that he hopes to reach an agreement with the U.S. distributors.

"Our goal is to create a law that counts on a broad base of support, not just political, but within the sector," he said.