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Catalan parliament approves law for language quotas in film

Catalonia's government has been challenging the Spanish national government in Madrid in different ways since the country's return to democracy in the 1970s. Now it is expanding its reach into the film industry.

Man examining film strips

The government says too few films are translated to Catalan

The parliament of Catalonia approved a new law on Wednesday that will require 50 percent of all films in the autonomous region to have dubbing or subtitles in the Catalan language.

The final vote was 117 in favor and 17 against, with a coalition of left- and right-wing Catalan nationalists supporting the law.

The government's minister for culture and media, Joan Manuel Tresserras, called the bill "one of the most important laws of this legislature." He said it would be reinforcement for the film industry in Catalonia, and that it would give people a better selection and guarantee linguistic diversity.

"Eighty percent of the films in the largest film festivals in Europe were never shown on the screen in Catalonia, because there's a market of distribution that's preoccupied with the big North American productions," Catalan parliament spokesman Daniel Hernandez told Deutsche Welle. "What this law hopes to accomplish is to give Catalans access to a larger number of films."

Hollywood sign

Hernandez says distributors are too busy with Hollywood to respect the Catalan language

Opposition in the industry

The "Law of the Cinema of Catalonia" gives the film industry five to seven years to comply, although the government says the effects should begin as soon as next year. Exceptions are made only for films already in Spanish or Catalan, or small-market films with less than 16 copies in existence.

Opposition to the new film law mainly came from film distributors and theater owners - hundreds of whom closed their cinemas for a day in January to protest against the bill. Camillo Tarrazon, president of the Catalan Association of Cinemas, argued that the law would be "apocalypse now" for many Catalan cinema owners.

"This is a law which will close theatres, which will lead to a reduction in the number of copies of films and a drop in the number of spectators," he said.

Film production companies have also expressed concern, fearing similar laws in other small-market language communities like the Basque region in Spain or Corsica in France.

Cultural preservation

Catalonia is one of a number of regions in Spain with a great deal of autonomy. During the three decades of dictatorship under Francisco Franco, the Catalan language was banned from schools and the media.

Now the autonomous government holds onto the language as symbol of the region's cultural survival. But Catalonia's economic prosperity has attracted a large number of immigrants, which many Catalan nationalists see as threatening. The government's response has been to increasingly legislate for the protection of the Catalan language and culture.

Catalonians wave flags at demonstration

Catalonia enjoys a large degree of autonomy from the national government in Madrid

But Hernandez argued that the law was more about giving moviegoers greater choice.

"What this law does is guarantee the right of our citizens to choose between Spanish and Catalan, the two official languages (of Catalonia)," he said. "It gives the same respect to the Catalan language that everyone gives to Spanish, German, Danish, Portuguese, or any other language that exists in Europe."

The law comes at a critical time, not just because of Spain's massive unemployment and floundering economy. On Monday, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled on a four-year-old charter that expanded Catalonia's autonomy.

While it accepted most of the charter, it also said Catalonia cannot be defined as a "nation," and the Catalan language cannot be legally preferable. Catalan political parties, unions and social organizations plan a demonstration on July 10 in Barcelona.

Author: Andrew Bowen
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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