Spanish exhibs to strike over film law


MADRID -- Movie screens across Spain will go dark Monday as exhibitors here protest a new film law that maintains the quota system requiring them to show one Spanish or European film for every three they screen from the U.S.

"Almost all of our members are taking part in this strike and will not show films (Monday)," Rafael Alvero, managing director of the Federation of Spanish Cinemas (FECE), said Friday.

Alvero estimates that the shutdown will affect about 4,000 screens and calculated the day's loss for exhibitors at about €1 million ($1.3 million).

Spain's proposed film law, which was recently approved by the cabinet and will now be debated by parliament and probably passed later this year, continues the screen quota requirement which has been in place for the past 65 years.

"We are the only country in the European Union with this kind of quota and over the past six years it has cost exhibitors €1 billion," said Alvero, who insists that the requirement is "unconstitutional, unjust and useless."

The FECE boss said he and other exhibitors have held meetings with representatives of the Culture Ministry, which drew up the law, as well as members of Spain's main political parties, but no one seemed to take their concerns into account.

"If the government wants to get more people to watch
Spanish films, those films have to get better," he said. "We
have to show movies that people want to see."

Spanish audiences seem to agree. In a survey released last week by polling firm Sigma Dos, 58% of Spaniards questioned described local movies as "mediocre or of little interest."

Only 26% of the respondents listed a Spanish film as among the last 10 they had seen.

Alvero said that the quota system endangers the very survival of theaters on which about 40,000 people, directly or indirectly, rely for their livelihoods.

Exhibitors staged a similar strike in 1994 with the same demands, but the government ignored it.

Film exhibitors already are being squeezed by DVD sales and rentals and other forms of home entertainment such as the Internet and TV.

"If the law is passed as it is now, many cinemas will have to close," he said. "If the quota is necessary, then the government has to help us with some kind of financial compensation."

FECE also unveiled an ad its members will screen, which explains the situation to moviegoers.

After vehement protests by broadcasters, the government scrapped one part of the law, which required broadcasters to invest 6% of their total revenue in Spanish cinema.

The only sector in the Spanish film industry entirely happy with the new law is the producers, who welcomed the legislation's increase in subsidies as well as its tax incentives -- like an 18% write-off to foment private investment in homegrown productions.