Spanish films do better abroad than at home

Films earned $175.7 mil in 18 countries from 75 titles

MADRID -- Spanish films earned more at the international boxoffice than at home in 2009, according to figures released Monday by Spain's Spanish Producers' Federation FAPAE at the Madrid de Cine Spanish Film Screenings.

Spearheaded by animated feature "Planet 51," Pedro Almodovar's "Broken Embraces" and Steven Soderbergh's "Che, The Argentine" (which boasts a minority Spanish stake held by Telecinco Cinema and Morena Films), Spanish films earned €140.6 million ($175.7 million) in 18 countries from 75 distributed titles.

That compares to the €104.4 million ($130 million) collected from Spanish films released in Spain during the same time period. Spanish films accounted for 15.9% of domestic ticket sales in 2009.

"We sell our films better abroad than at home," FAPAE President Pedro Perez said. "And we've seen tremendous growth in the U.S/Canadian market."

It is the first time official international sales figures have been presented to the industry. FAPAE's figures come from data obtained from the European Audiovisual Observatory, Rentrak EDI and Spain's Film Institute.

Spanish films earned €40.5 million ($50.3 million) at the U.S and Canadian boxoffice, with another €57.8 million ($72 million) coming from Europe and €25.5 million ($32 million) from Latin America.

Argentina leads the pack in number of Spanish films released in 2009, with 22 titles -- followed by France (20), Mexico (16) and Italy (15).

"We're not talking about marginal releases," Perez said, pointing to figures that show "Embraces" debuted in France and Italy in the No. 3 spot, while "Planet" also took the third post in its opening week in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Portugal -- snagging the 4th position in its opening week in the U.S./Canada, U.K. and Italy.

Spanish films were released with an average of 214 copies in the 18 countries included in the study.

In addition to the top three Spanish films seen abroad, another seven titles grossed more than a million euros abroad, including: Oscar-winning "The Secret in Their Eyes," "Rec 2," "My Life in Ruins" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

The fact that five of the top 10 grossing Spanish films, were actually minority stakes held by Spanish companies speaks to the growing number of international companies eyeing Spanish projects, as well as Spanish companies taking buying into bigger projects.

According to FAPAE, international sales are up because Spanish product connects with audiences and has benefited from co-productions that clear the distribution path in other territories.

But the flip side is that Spanish projects are getting international backing that makes them more marketable to mainstream audiences. Only 54.7% of the 75 titles were completely owned, majority stakes or joint ventures by Spanish companies. The remaining 45.3% were minority stakes.

"Spain is increasingly able to compete abroad with personality and technical quality," Gonzalo Salazar-Simpson, President of the newly created National Association of Cinema. "There are important international projects attracted by our talent."

Such projects include Guillem Morales' "Julia's Eyes," which has pre-sold to most of the bigger territories, including Germany-speaking territories (Kinowelt), Optimum Releasing (U.K.) and France, Spain and Latin America (UPI).

Other upcoming titles that fit that description include Juan Antonio Bayona's "The Impossible," and Rodrigo Cortes' "Buried," both second features from stand-out directors that turned heads on the international scene and have secured international financing.

For Salazar-Simpson, the trend toward international financing answers to the drying up of funds via video, free-tv sales and pay tv contracts.

New avenues of financing have arrived through legislation that provides tax incentives for private capital and direct investment required of cable operators.

When asked how Spanish producers felt about international players cherry picking Spanish projects -- like Summit's recent acquisition of worldwide rights to "The Impossible" - Perez refrained from his usual complaints about U.S. majors big-footing Spanish companies.

"Any money that is invested in Spanish cinema from abroad is welcome," he said.

But the figures released Monday were well-received by the local industry.

"I think it's great news," said Spanish producer Antonio Saura, who wrote a similar report on Spain's growing international boxoffice for the Fundacion Alternativas. "It's what the Americans have been trying to achieve for years."