March 17, 2000
By Adolfo Garza
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Hollywood studios have won a major legal battle in Mexican courts over the right to dub their movies into Spanish, but local
filmgoers appear reluctant to say "adios" to subtitles.
Mexico's Supreme Court Monday ruled in favor of the Hollywood studios, which had filed a legal challenge to a law that prohibited dubbing of any movies for theatrical exhibition, except for child-ren's films and educational material.
"The majority of justices consider that the law ... violates freedom of trade by restricting exhibitors of motion pictures'' from targeting the nation's large illiterate population, the Supreme Court said in a news release.
The injunction was filed by the local representatives of Buena Vista Pictures, Columbia Tri-Star, Twentieth Century Fox, and United International Pictures, which handles releases from Paramount Pictures and Universal Studios. Buena Vista is a unit of Walt Disney Co.; Columbia Tri-Star is part of Sony's Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.; Fox is owned by News Corp.; Paramount Pictures is a unit of Viacom Inc. and Universal Studios is a unit of Seagram Co.
Spokespeople for the distributors could not immediately be reached for comment.
Mexicans Prefer Subtitles
It remains to be seen whether the court's decision will have any effect on movie attendance in Mexico, where the overwhelming majority of films shown are English-language productions.
About 90 percent of film-goers in an online poll by newspaper Reforma said they preferred subtitles when watching foreign-language films, and only about 8 percent preferred dubbed movies.
But industry sources say dubbing could help attract not just illiterate Mexicans, but also those who cannot read fast enough to keep up with subtitles.
The Supreme Court's decision "was long overdue and will have a significant effect on the Mexican film industry,'' said Patricia Millet, director of Grabaciones y Dobl-ajes SA, one of Mexico's oldest dubbing studios.
The decision will help create new jobs for actors and sound technicians, and provide an incentive for exhibitors to build new theaters in the under-screened areas of Mexico where education levels are generally lower, she said.
Even in the most optimistic scenario, no more than 20 percent of foreign-language movies would be dubbed for theatrical release, a process that is more time-consuming and expensive than dubbing material for television, Millet said.
Due to the more sophisticated sound systems used in cinemas, dubbing movies for theatrical release costs anywhere between $20,000 and $80,000, and takes three times as long as dubbing for television.
Exhibitors are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
"A big part of the Mexican film-going public prefers watching movies in English,'' said Enrique Benhumea, spokesman for Cinemark de Mexico, a subsidiary of Texas-based Cinemark Theaters.
However, showing dubbed movies "would open up a very good niche in the market,'' he said. "As exhibitors, we must adapt to what the public wants. If they want movies dubbed in Spanish, that's what we'll show.''