Auteurs boost Argentine biz

But local producers must look abroad for crucial support

In a country ravaged by financial and political disarray just over three years ago, it seems odd that film production in Argentina is up — way up. But local producers still face coin troubles: Accessing credit is tight and having a domestic B.O. hit doesn’t guarantee a profit.

Even so, filmmakers cranked out more than 70 pics a year in 2003 and 2004. 2005 is running at a similar pace, with Adrian Caetano (“Red Bear”) and Fabian Bielinsky (“Nine Queens”) among a promising new crop of helmers. This year’s output will include bigger-budget commercial pics, too.

This production boom is matched by a rise in Argentinean film’s international reputation. Daniel Burman’s “El abrazo partido” (Lost Embrace) won the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Berlin Film Festival and Jorge Gaggero’s “Cama adentro” (Live-in Maid) picked up a special jury prize at this year’s Sundance fest.

The main reason for this cinematic progress, however, is something wholly foreign: co-production coin from Europe. It has become the key source of financing, given that the only other major supplier is the government — via a tax on B.O. receipts that has been greatly reduced in dollar terms since the 65% devaluation of the local currency, the peso, in 2002.

“Argentina’s financing isn’t enough for high-tech production, for filming in 35mm, for producing a quality image,” says Veronica Cura, an exec producer at Aquafilms. The outfit co-produced “Live-in Maid” and is working on Ariel Rotter’s ($1 million) “El otro,” about a man who changes his identity, with French and German financing.

While the currency slump made it hard for local production houses to go it alone — a third of a film’s cost is priced in dollars, such as for cameras, chemicals and materials — foreign producers find it a bargain. The other two-thirds of the budget go to talent and studio time, which are quoted in pesos and thus are three times cheaper than in Europe and the U.S.

“The devaluation created conditions that are favorable for co-productions, and this has been very tempting for foreign producers,” says BD Cine’s Diego Dubonovsky, a producer on “Lost Embrace.”

“(Argentinean) films are very authentic, fresh and personal,” says Ilse Hughan, a producer at Dutch outfit Fortuna Films. By comparison, many European productions, with funding from several member states, can lack this personal element because so many cultures must be involved due to financing regulations.

Equally important, helmers here are not limited to a movement or genre, putting out a wide variety of titles from comedies to dramas, thrillers, social realism and science-fiction, says Alejandro Chomski, director of “Hoy y manana” (Today and Tomorrow). This helps maintain the interest of producers, festival directors and film distributors.

Another reason for this boom in Argentinean cinema is a huge, thriving film school system, with some 2,000 students graduating each year. The system “is not elitist like in France; the result is a generation of filmmakers that are incredibly free,” says Elise Jalladeau, a producer with Paris-based Art Cam Intl.. “They have nothing to lose. In France, they have everything to lose.”

In Argentina, directors have a lot more creative freedom and respect, more so than in Europe, says Dubonovsky.

Of course, competition is stiff for foreign coin. Jalladeau estimates that 10 to 12 projects get picked a year, meaning most films go without. “They are competing against each other for financing.”

Those getting the coin are largely auteur films, ones that “get into the world of somebody, provide something that producers don’t have at home, whether these are different stories or different ways of saying things,” says Jalladeau.

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