Foreign-language videos hit US market. `Rambo' Egyptian-style, Spanish version of Stallone's `Cobra': video retailers cash in on growing interest in overseas films

Fareed Shawky's movies ``The Traitors'' and ``The Women's Gang'' are well-known in Egypt and other Arab countries, but the films originally did not play in United States theaters. Mr. Shawky, an Egyptian macho film actor in the Sylvester Stallone ``Rambo'' style, is now getting some attention on American television sets. Mr. Shawky's movies are among scores of Arabic-language films that are available on video cassettes and can be rented from neighborhood stores. Among the rows of English-language films in a Washington video store, for example, are shelves of movies by popular Mideast motion-picture makers.

Peter Timmons, manager of the International Video Club in Washington, says the store's Arabic films do fairly well. In fact, the store's entire foreign-language section is quite popular, he says.

The video business has gone through an explosive growth period in recent years, with as many as 25,000 stores popping up nationwide, an expert says. Now that the number of retail outlets has stabilized, movie renters are witnessing the latest boom: foreign-language films.

``Retailers already exist, and they are very competitive,'' says Lomberto Perez, publisher of Video Vision, a monthly magazine about Spanish-language films. Video stores ``are looking for other places to expand in the market,'' he says, and one area is foreign-language films.

Popular United States films are also being released on video in English and Spanish. ``Cobra'' is scheduled to be released by Warner Home Video, and viewers can see tough-guy Sylvester Stallone gunning down the bad guys in either English or Spanish.

Industry experts say foreign-language films have received little attention in the video marketplace until recently. At the Video Software Dealers Association's annual convention last August for example, hundreds of companies were pushing their latest releases. Spanish-language video distributors, with approximately a dozen display booths, comprised the largest segment of foreign films at the association's meeting.

Marion Martelli, executive vice-president of International Home Video in Wilmington, Calif., says that Spanish-language films are the predominant sellers in the market, and cites demographics as the reason. Hispanic population growth in the United States is expected to continue for several years.

Although Spanish-language films are enjoying a boom, attempts to release these films in 1983 failed. Marketers had the right idea, but they did not know the clientele or the product well enough, according to Douglas Jensen of Pelican Videos in Canoga Park, Calif.

Video cassette recorders were selling at that time for approximately $500, and the typical Hispanic family could not afford such a luxury, says Mr. Jensen, who has researched and documented the Hispanic demand for videos.

South Korea, however, launched a revolution in late 1984 by making and marketing video cassette recorders in the US for as little as $100 - well within the price range of Hispanics, Jensen says.

Film makers then had to be convinced that the Hispanic market was worth a second try. Today, production companies are now finding that Hispanics are good customers, Mr. Jensen says. ``Hispanics are a cash society, whereas Americans deal with checks and credit cards,'' he says.

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