In a two-prongedcampaign catering to the fastest growing demographic in the US, producerMoctesuma Esparza is launching a theatre chain and production/distributioncompany aimed at the continent's 41million-plus English-speaking Latinocommunity.

Esparza's MayaCinemas chain will open state-of-the-art multiplexes in minority communityareas, chiefly in what a statement called "Latino-centric, family-orientedcommunities in underserved urban and rural areas."

As part of aconstruction plan hatched with Urban Retail Properties, Maya Cinemas' firsteight venues will house more than 100 screens and will be located throughoutCalifornia and New Mexico, Chicago, Dallas and The Bronx, New York.

The first site,a 14-screen complex in Salinas, California, will open on Jul 29. Sevencomplexes are scheduled to open in 2006 and the partners plan to build morethan 500 screens over the next five years.

Esparza willserve as chief executive officer of Maya Cinemas, which is backed by Esparzaand private investors and will play first-run Hollywood titles while reservingat least one screen for community-interest pictures.

Maya Pictureswill produce and distribute pictures with strong appeal to the young Latinomarket and is backed by a $30m private equity fund.

Longtime Esparzaassociate Kimberly Myers has been named head of production and niche marketersMichael Harpster and Kevin Benson will head up theatrical marketing anddistribution.

Production isalready underway on the first title Walkout, the true story of a 1968 high schoolprotest by Mexican students in Los Angeles starring Michael Pena and AlexaVega. Edward James Olmos is directing for HBO.

Other film and television projects in development includethe comedy Columbus written by JorgeAguirre and to be directed by Gabriela Tagliavini; the teen comedy HowJoe Got His Pimp Grip to be directed byJoaquin Perea; the romantic comedy Mango Passion written by Rosemary Alderete; and a one-hour seriesadaptation of Milagro Beanfield Warin development with Touchstone Television.

Discussions are currently ongoing for output deals withhome video companies and pay cable buyers.

"There are now over 41million Latinos in the UnitedStates," Esparza said. "Two-thirds of these people were born here or came at avery young age.

"There is asubstantial, untapped market, at least two generations of people who speakEnglish, but have a strong identification with their Latino heritage. Likeanyone else, these people want to see characters and stories that they canrelate to on screen and on TV."

Esparza is apartner in Esparza-Katz Productions and over the course of 25 years built upthe first all-Latino owned cable company, Buenavision Cable TV in East LosAngeles.

His producingcredits include Selena, Gettysburg, and The Milagro Beanfield War.