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An ‘Impossible’ box office rescue

J. A. Bayona’s drama has helped Spanish film achieve its biggest box office share in 27 years

Rocío García
Making waves at the box office: The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts, has earned over 40.5 million euros in its first 11 weeks on release.
Making waves at the box office: The Impossible, starring Naomi Watts, has earned over 40.5 million euros in its first 11 weeks on release.

Homegrown films achieved their biggest share of the Spanish box office in 27 years in 2012 — 17.9 percent — according to the latest figures from media measurement firm Rentrak.

In absolute terms, they also earned their highest ever receipts with 106 million euros.

All good news to end the year with. After that, though, come the interpretations.

The good figures for Spanish film contrast with a general decline at the box office as a whole in Spain — six percent.

And once again the vast proportion of the total is attributable to just one title, Juan Antonio Bayona’s English-language tsunami drama The Impossible, way out in front of all the rest. Animated feature Las aventuras de Tadeo Jones (Tad, the Lost Explorer), Andalusian police thriller Grupo 7 (Unit 7) and romantic drama Tengo ganas de tí also contributed their share, however, with each bringing over a million viewers into movie theaters.

Only 2009 had seen a similar figure for Spanish film when the likes of Agora and Planet 51 helped bring in takings of 100 million euros.

The president of the FAPAE producers association, Pedro Pérez, on Wednesday said that for the first time in many years the good results demonstrate the mutual understanding that exists between Spanish films and moviegoers in a time of great uncertainty.

“I don’t know if it is going to be short-lived, but what is certain is that 2012 is ending with the biggest receipts for Spanish cinema in history in absolute terms and the highest audience share it has ever had.”

With the results in hand, Pérez appealed to the government to confront the current negotiations to change the funding model for Spanish film production in a responsible fashion.

“It is clear that a proportion of the public has a big interest in Spanish cinema and this is something we have to continue to cultivate,” he said.

The FAPAE president played down the importance of the fact that the 2012 figures once again demonstrate Spanish cinema’s tendency to depend on just one production — a new Pedro Almodóvar or Torrente movie, for example — that comes to the rescue of the industry each year.

It’s a pattern, he explained, that is also seen in France and the United States. “The good figures are produced thanks to one or two films a year,” he said.

In this case, that one film is The Impossible. After 11 weeks on release, the Thailand-set drama, which stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as a couple caught up in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, has amassed over 40.5 million euros at the box office and attracted over 5.8 million people into movie theaters.

The film has already broken all records for a Spanish-produced film, achieving the biggest opening weekend in Spanish box office history — 1.35 million tickets sold — and is the highest-earning Spanish film of all time.

Heading into 2013, producers show themselves to be optimistic, though admit they have not been helped by September’s “abusive” VAT rise, which increased the levy on cinema tickets by an enormous 13 points from 8 percent to 21 percent.

“The government’s measures have clearly been devastating for the industry, but we have achieved these results in spite of them,” Pérez said. “The good result does nothing to take our away our anxiety about finding a new model that has to be put in place.”

Internet or bust

R. G., Madrid

As the tills rang in Spain’s movie theaters, Paco León scored his own success in 2012 by shaking up the traditional film distribution model with his self-financed movie Carmina o revienta, arguably the big surprise of the year. The actor-director chose to simultaneously release the film — a mockumentary portrait of his Andalusian mother Carmina Barrios — in movie theaters, on the internet and on DVD via Cameo and EL PAÍS.

According to figures supplied by the actor and his main accomplice, Juan Carlos Tous, head of legal internet movie download site Filmin, Carmina o revienta has been viewed 60,000 times online — “something unimaginable at the outset” — and sold around 70,000 copies on DVD to become the bestselling title of the year. In the 20 theaters in which it opened, 17,000 people watched it. In all, it has been seen by 279,000 people and taken 664,000 euros.

The other success of the movie, says Tous, is that “it has done more to combat piracy than any other film [...] We have got many viewers to buy this movie who illegally downloaded cinema before

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