Tearing up Spain’s movie distribution rulebook: part II

The sequel to Paco León's 'Carmina o revienta' is aiming for an equally unconventional release

Carmina Barrios (in sunglasses) and her daughter María León in Paco León's 'Carmina y amén.'
Carmina Barrios (in sunglasses) and her daughter María León in Paco León's 'Carmina y amén.'

For Paco León directing is the least of it. The complicated stuff comes afterwards. How to release it? How to sell it? What’s the best way to make some noise?

With his first film as director, Carmina o revienta, he did away with industry conventions, releasing it simultaneously on the internet and DVD and also trying to carve out a niche for it in movie theaters. He only managed the latter in symbolic form: just 20 cinemas agreed to show the film at the same time as it was available online at a much cheaper price.

That was two years ago. Last weekend, León presented his second film as director, Carmina y amén, at the Málaga Film Festival ahead of its commercial release on April 30. It again centers on the character of his mother, Carmina Barrios, who plays herself, but this time around features a more fictionalized story than the original, where personal anecdotes were the basis. Blending drama, death and comedy, it mixes both professional and non-professional actors and boasts a much-boosted budget of €650,000, compared with the tiny €50,000 that Carmina o revienta cost.

And again León is planning on breaking the rules when it comes to its release. This time he hasn’t been able to get a simultaneous release online and in movie theaters, but he is battling to get the price of tickets lowered and to break the “damned” formula that prevents films from coming out on DVD less than four months after they do in cinemas.

The freedom he has enjoyed as a result of not having used any public film subsidies has worked in his favor. Now he just has a tough and complicated negotiation with distributors, producers and exhibitors on his hands. “The experimental spirit of Carmina o revienta continues in this one,” he explains in a downtown Madrid café. “We don’t want to do a conventional release and our aim remains to reach all those people who have little purchasing power but want to see the film.

Filmmaker Paco León.
Filmmaker Paco León.

“The artistic part of the film is complemented by the moment when the viewer sees it. What happens between the two is something that is totally up to me and I am 100-percent involved in it. I am not a director who leaves the issue of how to sell this film in the hands of others. I think the creative element is also important there and not just the commercial one. Carmina o revienta was not just a breath of fresh air as a film, but also, in some way, in the industry market.”

León has tried to get the new film released in theaters with an across-the-board ticket price of €5, but to no avail. “The Competition Commission won’t allow it, which is strange when, for example, all Apple products have the same price at all sales points, whether it is through the internet, in a specialized shop or a superstore. […] If it could be done, it would be an excellent way of competing with the US giants. Why does a ticket to see The Hobbit, with a more than million-dollar budget, have to cost the same as one to see Carmina y amén?”

That said, there will be a one- or two-day promotion at the start of Carmina y amén’s run, when cinema-goers will be able to see it at a much-reduced price.

León also plans to go on breaking the rules by doing away with that obsolete “scourge” that is the lack of flexibility surrounding exhibition windows – the carefully scheduled journey that movies make from theater to pay-TV video on demand, DVD rentals and sales, and their screening on free-to-air television. “It’s absurd that theaters force you to wait four months before you can bring the film out on video. Consumption times have sped up and dead time is created that is lethal for Spanish film, because what you need to make the most of is the initial media impact and avoid those dead times. We are working with exhibitors so that we can decide when to bring the film out in another format. I am aware that means a big revolution in the industry. And it’s killing me. I don’t consider myself a messiah of anything, but I think you have to experiment to listen to the needs of each film one by one.”

With this sequel he hopes to redress the two things that irked him about his first experiment – its lack of presence in theaters and its almost non-existent international reach. Right now, he says with a certain note of caution, there is a major international film festival interested in Carmina y amén, which would help it get started on that foreign journey.

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