“If I don’t do it with my movie, who else is going to experiment?”

Actor Paco León opts to make film history with release of ‘Carmina o revienta’

Paco León with his mother Carmina (left) and sister María, during the filming of 'Carmina o revienta.' / JOSÉ HARO

Actor Paco León looks likely to record a landmark in the history of the Spanish film industry. On his own express wish, his directorial debut Carmina o revienta will be released on the internet on July 5 without first passing through theaters, at the same time as it will be released to buy on DVD in stores. And at very accessible prices.

Half documentary, half fiction, the film is a direct and outrageous portrait of León’s mother, Carmina Barrios. It became the surprise hit at this year’s Málaga Film Festival, winning Best Actress as well as the Special Jury and Audience Awards.

The aim is that anyone who wants to see the film will be able to in any home or on any internet-connected device. At the same time, the legal movie download site Filmin will be responsible for distributing the film to pay TV stations and other internet sites — among them, Ono, Imagenio, iTunes, Google Play and Booquo — as well as offering it for viewing on its own page. The movie, which stars the director’s sister María León, will also be available on Canal+ Yomvi from July 5 and on Canal+ 1 after the summer.

Paco León is excited about this mold-breaking scheme, which is also in keeping with the kind of movie that Carmina o revienta is. “If I don’t do this with my movie, who else is going to experiment?” he asks.

From the outset he was determined that the film — which was produced independently by his own family, at a cost of around 100,000 euros — reach as many people as possible, whatever their budget. As such, he has managed to make it available on Filmin for 1.95 euros during its first two weeks on release, a euro less than the normal price for new movies on the site. For the first time ever, Filmin customers will also be able to pay for the film rental via text message. The DVD sale price will be 5.95 euros — “the film is only available on its own, without any extras, although if it goes well, we intend to do an edition that includes more elements,” he explains. The internet download version will cost the same amount.

León, who received a very generous offer from a big distributor after the film’s success at Málaga, has tried and failed to get the film released simultaneously in movie theaters. “I don’t want to defy anyone and I understand the distributors’ and exhibitors’ logical fear of the unknown, but I believe we are facing a process where we need to adapt, and if we do so, we will all come out winning. If a lot of cinema is consumed in whatever format, the theaters will end up benefiting. I am trying to get everyone involved in this. I am not taking an anti-system stance; I want to create a market.”

Enormously popular thanks to his TV work, León is well aware that his proposal is a novel one. “I have never been politically active about anything, and nor am I being with this, but out of an innocence in terms of the market, I did my own research.” This consisted of throwing out two questions to his more than 500,000 Twitter followers: “Do you know what Filmin is?” And: “I would like to release Carmina o revienta on the internet. Would you buy it for 1.90 euros?” Within an hour he had received 1,000 tweets supporting his idea and encouraging him to move forward with it.

“I got excited. It was the moment when I saw there was a social need to consume cheap cinema,” he remembers. “There is an audience for the movie theater but you have to offer them alternatives. Viewers demand immediacy, they want to see the film at the time of its promotion and not wait four months. What’s more it is an alternative to piracy,” says the director.

It is the first time in Spain that the audience has been offered a release like this. Carmina o revienta is able to premiere on the internet and on DVD at the same time because it has not received any kind of funding from the ICAA, the state body responsible for cinema. Although there is no rule for internet releases, the current ministerial order, from June 2011, specifies that there must be at least three months between a Spanish film’s release in theaters and its release on DVD. But this rule only applies in the case of films that have received public financing.

In 2008, Bullet in the Head, directed by Jaime Rosales, premiered in Filmin and in theaters (not on DVD) at the same time, but had to get special permission from the ICAA to do so.

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