Federal fiscal woes undercut film fest

Economic crisis weighs on Argentina

BUENOS AIRES — The Mar del Plata Film Festival, the country’s biggest and an important showplace for local directors, will unspool March 7-16 under a cloud of economic uncertainty.

With Argentina experiencing a worsening economic crisis after nearly four years of recession, the government has slashed the budget for the festival to 900,000 pesos ($450,000) from $1.5 million in 2001. Organizers are working with a team of 20, compared with 110 at the 2001 festival.

But some had feared the fest would be canceled altogether.

Still, fewer people are expected to attend, discouraged by the rising social tensions. After massive demonstrations toppled two governments in December, smaller ones are nearly a daily occurrence, as people protest rising unemployment and strict restrictions on cash withdrawals from banks.

And several festival judges have skipped out, forcing organizers to scramble to replace them in time.

“We’ve had very bad press,” Claudio Espana, the festival’s artistic director, acknowledged at a Feb. 25 press conference to unveil the 160 films that will screen in Mar del Plata.

Seventeen pics are in competition, including two from Argentina: Luis Ortega’s surreal adventure film “Caja Negra” (Black Box) and Diego Gaschassin’s “Vladimir en Buenos Aires” (Vladimir in Buenos Aires), about a Russian man’s immigration to Argentina.

Also competing are Brazil’s Marcelo Dias with his “Cama de Gato” (Cat’s Bed), Colombia’s Jorge Ali Triana with “Bolivar Soy Yo” (I am Bolivar) and Mexico’s Juan Antonio de la Riva with “El Gavilan de la Sierra” (The Sparrow Hawk of the Mountains).

Outside the competition, several Argentine directors will screen their films, including Gustavo Fontan, Edmund Valladares, Ana Katz and Victor Jorge Ruiz.

The festival is considered a venue for local directors to try to snare international sales, a goal that is even more important since the crisis has restricted government funding for films and halted most production.

The local industry is driven by subsidies, bar a few TV-financed pics and international co-productions — and the government’s financial malaise may prevent it from making good on its subsidy commitments for 2002.

Fest will open with Wes Anderson’s “The Royal Tenenbaums” and close with the preem of “La Soledad Era Esto” (This Was Solitude), a broken-marriage drama directed by Argentine Sergio Renan.

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