The general director of Spain's Cinema Institute (ICAA) and members of the Spanish film community are set to appear before a congressional committee this week to argue the finer points of proposed changes to the country's cinema law, including the controversial dissolution of screen quotas.

The new law, submitted by the Ministry of Culture for approval by Congress and subsequently Senate, includes a measure to do away with the country's veteran screen quota system which requires exhibitors to program one day of European cinema for every three days of films from other countries. According to the ICAA proposal, the quotas would slowly be dissolved over the next five years. A temporary quota of one EU film for every four non-EU films may be maintained until then.

Some producers and independent distributors argue that some form of quotas remains necessary for Spanish films to compete at the local box office against omnipresent North American product. Indeed, Spanish films' market share dropped drastically last year from a high 14.5% in 1999 to a worrisome 9.6% in 2000. Films from the US monopolized 82% of the Spanish box office, while European films cornered a 7.4% market share.

"The market needs to regulate itself and the government must do something so that our films obtain a competitive market share," Spanish Producers' Federation (FAPAE) president Eduardo Campoy told national newspaper La Vanguardia. "Until then, screen quotas must be maintained."

Jose Maria Otero, ICAA's general director who is spearheading the new law, maintains that the veteran system is obsolete. "Despite the fact that the market quota [for Spanish films] decreased in 2000, the industrial and financial framework of Spanish cinema has remained stable," Otero said at a recent presentation of year-end industry figures which showed that the number of Spanish films and average budgets rose last year.