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Perez puts Seville pix on map

MADRID — The now 44-year-old Antonio Perez first caught Variety’s attention during a fiesta for Pedro Almodovar’s “Labyrinth of Passion” at the San Sebastian Film Festival way back in 1982. As foreign producers clumped to a flamenco beat with the agility of embarrased rhinos, the Andalusian-born Antonio Perez strutted his stuff like an actor in a Carlos Saura dance film.

Perez’s native Andalusia made the man. His origins explain his lisping Spanish, near Old World courtesy, gentle banter, dapper jackets, sure taste in red wine. But from last year, Perez’s Seville base has been the place of his making as a film producer. From the early ’90s, Spain has seen an explosion of above-the-board talent, often Basque-born directors making films for Madrid-based production houses.

Despite occasional incursions into film productions, such as 1990’s “Against the Wind” — one of the last films starring Antonio Banderas in Spain — Perez, the co-owner of Videoplanning, one of the largest TV studios in Spain, spent most of the early ’90s making bread-and-butter money from the production of musicals and gameshows for local pubcaster Canal Sur.

Madrid’s near lockout on young and exciting helmers is now over, however. Perez is not only Andalusia’s best-known film producer in international circles, he’s almost its only known film-producer in international circles. He has begun to root out homegrown talent from the south of Spain and beyond and place it on the world stage. “I’m called ‘Euro-Perez.’ I live more in the AVE (Spain’s high-velocity train link from Seville to Madrid) than Seville,” half quips Perez, who heads up international relations for Spain’s powerful Fapae producers group.

Produced by Perez’s Seville-based Maestranza Films, Benito Zambrano’s study of solitude “Alone” lived up to its publicity tag, “the surprise film from Andalusia.” by winning the public award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival. It has gone on to become Spain’s spring sleeper, grossing $850,000 domestically. Maestranza already had taken a co-production credit last year on Argentinian Alejandro Agresti’s jocular village fable “Wind With the Gone,” which came from nowhere to win the Golden Shell at the 1998 San Sebastian Film Festival.

Maestranza and Sogetel, Sogecable’s production arm, are co-producing the Seville-set role-play thriller “Nobody Knows Anybody.” The first pic of Alejandro Amenabar’s co-screenwriter, Mateo Gil, it already is being talked up as the Spanish directorial debut of the year. After these successes, Perez ideally is placed to mix TV work, often for regional pubcaster Canal Sur, with original feature film production and production services for international movies or series that may be enticed to Andalusia by an energetic new Andalusia Film Commission.

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