Bringing Spanish-Language Movies Home

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Jim McNamara in late August was appointed non-executive chairman of Cine Latino, the Spanish-language movie channel owned by InterMedia Advisors and Mexico City’s Grupo MVS. As the channel prepares for the Oct. 1 launch of a dedicated feed tailored to Hispanic audiences, Hispanic TV Update spoke to McNamara about the state of Latin American cinema in the U.S. and the growing interest by Spanish-language broadcasters to acquire and program films in Spanish. An edited transcript follows:

Q: Is the movie business what you expected?

A: This business has been a very positive experience. It is a difficult business, but it’s certainly very exciting. I am convinced there is a very good market among Hispanics, who are huge consumers of movies, whether it is in the theatre, on DVD, pay-per-view and even broadcast television.

The thing with this business is that it has been a stop start, stop start process. So one of the things we try to do [at Panamax] is to keep the productions coming -- and this doesn’t mean necessarily that we’ll produce them ourselves; sometimes we co-produce, or just help a producer. The formula is always different, but in the long run Spanish-language movies are a good business.

Q: What would you say are your main goals as non-executive chairman of Cine Latino?

A: What [InterMedia’s Alan Sokol] and I saw is that this channel can be greatly improved; taken to the next level. This means, having better and bigger movies; but also more current movies. We also want to develop better studio relationships.

As far as distribution is concerned, we want to make sure we are communicating properly to our main audiences -- both the final [viewing] audience and the cable and MSOs. Sometimes you are dealing with people who speak no Spanish, and who couldn’t tell the difference between a film like Ladrón que roba a ladrón and a Rafael Goyri movie in Mexico, for example.

Q: There have been several ventures to distribute Spanish-language films in the U.S. but not all have been successful. Do you think pay-TV is the right avenue? Why?

A: First of all, you need to have good content. Second, you have to consider that we are in a market dominated by Hollywood studios, which don’t want too many multiplexes dedicated to Spanish-language films.

However, I think theatre owners are starting to realize there is a market out there. Even Univision and Telemundo, which historically have acquired very few Spanish-language movies, are now starting to realize that movies are starting to work. For example, on Sunday night [August 24] Univision aired Frida, and it did very well. And in November, the network will air [Panamax production] Ladrón que roba a ladrón.

I think you are soon going to see both Univision and Telemundo wanting to get involved in production. Trust me when I tell you that Frida was an eye-opener for Univision. And when they put on Ladrón que roba a ladrón, ratings will go up to the roof.

Q: Why only now, and why so few movies?

A: Well, first of all you have to consider there are not enough movies, or at least not many that have a commercial appeal. Besides the efforts done by Arenas, [Moctesuma Esparza] and even Jim McNamara, Hollywood has always rejected Spanish-language cinema.

You can count with two hands the number of Spanish-language films really embraced by Hollywood over the last 20 years. But this is changing.

Besides, pay TV is going to be a very important part of the process. These days, it is unthinkable to conceive a movie without its pay TV component; and I am confident Cine Latino will play an important part of this trend.

Q: Last time we spoke, we talked about your interest in incorporating brands and/or products in movies…

A: Let’s face it. Advertisers are moving in this direction, and if you are Chevrolet and you have cars in your movie like Ladrón que roba a ladrón, you’ll see the results and then you’ll want to find a way to make sure your cars appear in our movies.

At the beginning, [Chevrolet] was very unsure about Panamax. But if you ask Chevy now, we are probably their favorite producers, not only because of how they saw the cars on the film but we got Univision and Telemundo to incorporate them in their TV promotions. Whether we are talking about the latest Brad Pitt movie or the new Salma Hayek film, they are all moving in that direction.

Q: How big is the library of Cine Latino?

A: We currently have over 425 movies under contract, but we are in the process of finalizing another 80 or 90 to add to our library. Overall, we have a good mix of Mexican films, Hollywood Latino films, 30 or 40 Brazilian movies, in Portuguese and are also considering acquiring English-language films that are Latino related.

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