Spain Rides Wave of 3-D Features

Spain, Europe's worst-performing large film market, has discovered a new Golden Goose: 3-D movies. And Spanish producers are rushing to get local auds into plastic glasses with locally produced fare. Antonio Banderas revealed last week that Goleor, the second pic at his Spanish toon label, Kandor Moon, will be made in stereoscopic 3-D.

On Nov. 3, Dygra Films held a sneak peek in Madrid of a teaser for the toon Holy Night!, which is aiming to become one of Europe's earliest 3-D movies to hit screens. The rollout of digital 3-D cinema in Europe has been held up by a face-off between studios and exhibs in the U.S., as well as exhibs' unwillingness to shoulder conversion costs in Europe and a lack of non-studio titles. With some of those problems now easing, Holy Night! is one of a bevy of European 3-D titles hoping to capitalize on the digital rollout. The Christmas farce, set in a fantasy world, features a sporty-looking Santa Claus, his reindeer, the three wise men, Herod, a swaddling-clothed Baby Jesus, blacksmiths, shepherdesses and Santa Claus security guards.

Dygra, a Spanish animation pioneer, is based in Galicia, in Spain's northwest region, and at a time when Spanish banks are battening down the hatches on credit for local pics, bank finance for Holy Night! is actually being underwritten by Galicia's government.

"We're betting on new technologies. And film and TV are of strategic interest for the Galician government," Xoan Anton Perez-Lema, Galicia's secretary general, institutional relations, said at the Holy Night! teaser screening.

Spanish auds seem to be entranced by their first glimpses of 3-D cinema. Journey to the Center of the Earth, playing its ninth weekend in Spain, registered 98% capacity crowds at four screenings in Madrid's Kinepolis megaplex, which has two Dolby 3-D screens, according to Juan Barquin, the chain's Spanish marketing and sales manager.

The 3-D films don't come cheaply -- two of Europe's in-the-works 3-D titles, EuropaCorp's A Monster in Paris and Gaumont's Rock the Boat, weigh in at $35 million each -- but Holy Night! will cost south of $19.1 million.

Dygra's other challenge is a potential digital 3-D screen bottleneck around December 2009, when Avatar and Tim Burton's Frankenweenie are skedded for release. However, Europe's 3-D screen count is rising fast, although from a very low base. As of June, the U.K. boasted 64 screens, Germany 24, and France 21, according to Screen Digest. Spain currently has 22 3-D screens.

"Digital 3-D's got three attractions," says Gomez. "It's relatively cheap to upgrade to the technology. It has a second window in Blu-ray. You can download 3-D." But Dygra isn't putting all its eggs in the digital 3-D basket: It's producing Holy Night! in traditional CGI as well, says Gomez.

By John Hopewell, Variety