Film Exec Esparza Spearheads Creation of Latino Cinema Chain; Production and Distribution Company

by Brian Brooks

Film executive Moctesuma Esparza who is leading a multi-pronged effort to serve the needs of English-speaking Latino moviegoers in the United States with a new chain of cinemas in addition to a plan to produce several feature films. Image courtesy of Maya Cinemas.

Film executive Moctesuma Esparza will lead a multi-pronged effort to serve the needs of English-speaking Latino moviegoers in the United States with a new chain of cinemas in addition to a plan to produce several feature films and television shows, as well as the establishment of a distribution company for Latino product. The "Selena" producer's plans will in part be financed through a financial deal recently completed with a private equity fund, which will be the lead investor for a $30 million finance plan. Additionally, discussions are currently ongoing for output deals with home video companies and pay cable buyers.

Confirming what Esparza alluded to last March during a conference of NALIP, the National Association of Latino Producers (which he co-founded) in Huntington Beach, CA, a new a 14-screen complex in Salinas, California, will open on July 29th in the Central Californian city, the first of a planned 500-plus screen chain to be constructed within the next five years. Headed by Esparza, who serves as the company's CEO, the Maya Cinemas will operate new, state-of-the-art multiplex theaters throughout the United States.

The theaters will be located in what the group describes as "areas with strong movie-going demographics, particularly in Latino-centric, family-oriented communities in underserved urban and rural areas." The company will offer mainstream first-run Hollywood movies, utilizing the latest technology and providing a comprehensive first-rate entertainment experiences for the overall population; however, each complex will also reserve at least one screen for "specialized, community-interest films."

The new company plans to design each new theater to "complement the surrounding architecture of its neighborhood, while maintaining its Mayan theme with the interior of the grand lobby and will be equipped with stadium seating, state-of-the-art film and sound technologies, and fiber optics to accommodate any future conversion to digital media." Private institutional investors and Esparza are backing the theatrical venture with the first eight projects totaling more than 100 screens located throughout California, New Mexico, Chicago, Dallas and The Bronx, New York. Seven complexes are scheduled to open in 2006, and the project is a co-venture with Urban Retail Properties Co.

An artist depiction of the new Maya Cinema, which will open next week in Salinas, CA. Image courtesy of Maya Cinemas.

In addition to the theater chain, Esparza has also announced the launch of Maya Pictures, which will "produce and distribute films that can play commercially and have an appeal to young Latinos." Longtime Esparaza associate Kimberly Myers will serve as the company's head of production, while veteran niche marketers Michael Harpster and Kevin Benson will head theatrical marketing and distribution. Edward James Olmos' HBO project "Walkout" is Maya's first film. The film is based on the true story of Mexican-American activist Paula Crisostomo, who helped organize walkouts in East Los Angeles schools in 1968 to protest unequal treatment. Esparaza, who took part in the protests as a UCLA freshman at the time, is also a character in the film.

Esparza and Maya Pictures are also producing "Circumsized Cinema," the first scripted series on Si TV, the first and only English-language Latino cable network, whose motto is "Speak English - Live Latin." Other titles in the pipeline include Gabriela Tagliavini's comedy "Columbus," Joaquin Perea's teen comedy "How Joe Got His Pimp Grip," Rosemary Alderete's romantic comedy "Mango Passion" in addition to television projects.

"There are now over 41 million Latinos in the United States and two thirds of these people were born here or came at a very young age," said Esparza in a statement. "There is a substantial, untapped market, at least two generations of people who speak English, but have a strong identification with their Latino heritage. Like anyone else, these people want to see characters and stories that they can relate to on screen and on TV."

In addition to "Selena," Esparza's credits also include "Introducing Dorothy Dandridge," "Gettysburg," "Cisco Kid," "The Price of Glory," "Selma, Lord Selma," "The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez" and "The Milagro Beanfield War." He has won over 200 awards, including an Emmy for "Cinco Vidas" and an Academy Award nomination for "Agueda Martinez - Our People, Our Country."