Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

CINEMA-VENEZUELA: New Movie Complexes Lure Crowds

Estrella Gutierrez

CARACAS, Oct 27 1998 (IPS) - Movies were playing to nearly empty houses in Venezuela just one year ago, but now the lines are back at the box office.

. cinemas were all but vacant up to a year ago, but not any longer. In fact, new ones have been cropping up, mainly in areas most frequented by their main targets, teenagers and young adults.

Since the end of last year, 42 cinemas have opened in Venezuela, 22 of them in metropolitan Caracas, after the elimination in 1996 of controls on ticket prices – a measure imposed 22 years ago. Heading the new wave of cinema-goers are teenagers and young adults.

Movie attendance increased by 50 percent in the first eight months of this year over the corresponding period of 1997, while earnings increased by 33 percent, according to Lorenzo Gonzalez, president of the Association of Cinema Proprietors.

Cinema owners expect to rake in 32 million dollars this year and with figures like this being bandied about, the 200,000 odd dollars it takes to open a new cinema no longer frightens off investors.

Between 1974 and 1996, a total of 560 cinemas closed down in Venezuela. Cinema owners blamed low entrance fees, but experts argue that there were also other reasons for the closures.

In the 1970s, high oil prices gave Venezuelans access to new, more expensive forms of entertainment, but after 1983 the country began feeling the strain of the debt crisis that had devastated the rest of Latin America. As families’ incomes shrank, the television became the most popular source of entertainment.

The fact that Venezuela went on to become one of Latin America’s most crime-ridden countries also served to keep people at home in the evenings.

This combination of factors made the traditional large cinema theaters, which had fallen into disrepair, no longer attractive to the public and the attendant lack of resources caused the film distribution business to languish.

Gonzalez said the new boom was just beginning and before the end of the century, some 50 more cinema complexes would be opened, most of them along the lines of the multi-cinema complex.

The new movie houses – small, comfortable complexes in which the public can drink beer and sometimes smoke – are located in new and traditional shopping malls. Movie-goers may reserve tickets by telephone, and can even pay for them by credit card.

The president of the Association of Cinema Proprietors indicated that no more than 120 films would be shown this year, as against 400 in previous years, because the public is now much more selective, although this is a subject of debate.

A detailed study published by the daily El Universal revealed that 27 percent of movie-goers like to watch action and adventure movies, 15 percent go for detective stories, suspense or terror movies, while comedy and drama attract only six percent.

Fifty-four percent of cinema-goers are between the ages of 15 and 30 and only one person in 10 is over the age of 40. The majority, 54 percent, go to the cinema once a month, while 20 percent go twice monthly, and only eight percent weekly.

The need to remodel cinemas to show four different films in a space that once showed only one movie has led owners to seek support from embassies and increase the number of European and Latin American film festivals through which movie lovers seek refuge from the U.S. dominance of film production.

Gonzalez noted that just 12 movies earn more than 400,000 dollars per year in Venezuelan cinemas. The exception this year was ‘Titanic’, which grossed a record-breaking four million dollars in Venezuela.

No cinema ticket costs more than 5.50 dollars even after the removal of the old regulations. This has helped cinemas attract viewers since the movies remain the cheapest form of entertainment in the country.

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