Five Ways to Fix Spanish Cinema

MALAGA, Spain — Traditionally, until a few years back, a Spanish film industry debate led to a “Wall of Laments” which ended up as a call for increased governmental support.

That was then. €70 million ($76.8 million) in 2023, €100 million ($109 million) last year, Spain’s ICAA film institute budget could add another €30 million ($32.7 million) with a little luck this year, said Rocío Juanas de Toledo, its secretary general at a panel, Spanish Cinema Models Examined, one of the key industry debates at this week’s Malaga Festival.

More from Variety

Panelists represented Spain’s three biggest content investors – Movistar Plus+, Atresmedia and RTVE – and two top producers: Morena Films and Elástica Films.

It took speakers less than two minutes to zero in on Spain’s biggest immediate challenge: Its still underperforming box office, down 24% on pre-pandemic levels. 

“Our major concern is how to recuperate the cinema theater audiences we had before the pandemic,” said Jaime Ortiz, Atresmedia Cine director general.

“The big challenge as producers is to change the habits of how audiences consume films, with spectators doubting whether to catch them in theaters or wait until they air on platforms or TV networks,” agreed Pilar Benito, a producer partner at Spain’s Morena Films.

People talk about the pandemic but the real problem is the collapse of release windows, echoed José Pastor, director of film and fiction at nationwide pubcaster RTVE,

At 74.9 million tickets sold, total 2023 admissions in Spain were still 24% down on pre-COVID cinemagoing, Comscore Movies Spain announced at year-end. Morena’s own experience bore that out, Benito noted. “Champions,” the No. 1 Spanish film of 2018, grossed €19.1 million ($20.8 million). Released last year, “Championext,” its sequel, was still the local chart-topper. But it ran up €11.9 million ($13.0 million).

A second challenge, tabled by María Zamora, at Elástica Films, behind Spain’s 2022 Berlin Golden Bear winner “Alcarrás”: Production costs have spiraled brutally over the last six or seven years, but traditional financing sources have plateau-ed. Italy and Germany have double Spain’s public sector film funding. Budgets, however, are pretty similar, she added.

Unlike round tables of old, however, the debate turned fairly quickly to potential solutions. Following, five of the best:

Regulate Flexible Release Windows

For three decades, these have been decided by industry consensus, unlike legal dictates in France, for example. They established a holdback of 112 days between theatrical bow and DVD release, and then, with its decline, with pay-TV. With COVID-19 and the advent of streaming services, the window has souffléd to 30 or 45 days in many cases. 112 days would now be excessive and lose any marketing effect from a cinema theater bow, the panelists agreed. A best-practice solution might build in a certain flexibility affording the possibility to evaluate the window effect, Juanas de Toledo added.

Create Event Arthouse Movies

The two titles which has performed best in theaters for RTVE have been “The Teacher Who Promised the Sea,” grossing €1.38 million ($1.5 million) in Spain, and “Te estoy amando locamente,” which punched €574,216 ($598,645) last year, Pastor noted. Both have an arthouse edge.” Spectators of the type of films which María makes want to have the experience of seeing them in cinemas,” Ortiz observed. But Spain makes so many arthouse films. How to stand out from the crowd? One solution is event arthouse, which is exactly what Movistar Plus+ has put into practice with its first movie slate, outlined on the panel by Guillermo Farré, Movistar Plus+ head of original films & Spanish cinema. These will play off the power of theatrical release. “We really believe in the theatrical window. It’s indispensable for films to be formed, and have the possibility of making a cultural impact,” he said.

The Teacher Who Promised the Sea
The Teacher Who Promised the Sea

Targeted and Really Effective Market Intervention

Introduced in July for a six-month trial, Spain’s Seniors Day, set on Tuesdays, when over 65s get a €2 ($2.2) discount on cinema ticket rates, has been a runaway success, boosting theatrical attendance by 50% “It’s not just the markdown, but the launch of a specific program for seniors, creating a cinema going habit,” Zamora observed. The hope is that having returned to the cinemas, maturer patrons might even pay the full whack for movies over the weekend. The Seniors Day will continue in 2024, said Juanas de Toledo.

So Support Animation

The panel took place as “Robot Days,” produced by powerhouse Arcadia Motion Pictures and a Neon U.S. pick-up and world sales hit is one of five movies in the running to score an animated feature Oscar on March 10. After Seniors Day, “perhaps we should be targeting young audiences,” said Juanas de Toledo. One way to attract them could be via Spanish animation. Spain is strong on animation, with magnificent professionals, she added.

Boost Spanish Films’ Presence on Networks

In February, Spanish films outperformed Hollywood titles on RTVE, thanks to Iciar Bollaín’s “Maixabel” and the media focus on local films thanks to Feb. 11’s Spanish Academy Goya Awards, Pastor noted.  Yet the total market share of Spanish films when aired on linear TV in Spain is around 21%, under Germany’s 27%, Ortiz suggested. “I think that TV operators and platforms have to try to air more Spanish cinema and series to educate new generations,” Pastor said. Farré sees the potential. “Prison 77” was the most watched film of any nationality on Movistar Plus+ in 2023. “I agree with what José Pastor says about U.S. and Spanish films. There are films like ‘Prison 77’ that can find a public,” he said.


Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.